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Reflections on Presenting our Work “Family Therapy in Global Humanitarian Contexts” at AAMFT 2016

A Message from SAAMFT:

Hello everyone! SAAMFT is proud to feature a blog written by one of our very own members Laurie Lopez-Charles, along with a couple of her fellow co-authors! The blog is a reflection on their experiences presenting information and ideas from their new book “Family Therapy in Global Humanitarian Contexts” at AAMFT earlier this year. Don’t forget that all members are eligible to submit their blog posts to be approved and posted on our SAAMFT blog and social media sites!

Reflections on Presenting our Work “Family Therapy in Global Humanitarian Contexts” at AAMFT 2016

Catalina Perdomo, PsyD Student, Our Lady of the Lake University and AAMFT Minority Fellow

Let me be honest, I was incredibly apprehensive to be presenting at AAMFT conference for the first time, as a student no less. I was excited to attach the “presenter” ribbon on my nametag, secretly hoping it would make me look less nervous, more “professional.” But, after hearing Dr. Manijeh Daneshpour call us to action I reflected on our “Shoufi Mafi” group. Shoufi Mafi is a group of graduate students at OLLU in dialogue about global mental health issues, and was the impetus of our Chapter 11 in the book, Family Therapy in Global Humanitarian Contexts (Charles & Samarasinghe, 2016). There is no doubt that we, the Shoufi Mafi, have answered and echoed Manijeh's call, and my confidence grew with that realization. Our collective experience became transformed in each of us, it became a personal call that we answered by writing our distinct sections in the final chapter of Dr. Charles and Dr. Samarasinghe’s book. All the more echoed in our presentation.

I can’t help but smile when I think back on our rainy Saturday morning presentation. I realize now that by sharing my personal training experience I was trusting an audience to honor and consider it carefully, much like I try to do for clients in a therapeutic session. It was eye opening when an audience member remarked “when I used the term cultural humility in a presentation people walked out of the room.” At first I thought, “how horrible, please don’t do that to us students”… but then, I thought some more: well what if they do? Could our presentation be that subversive? As a narrative therapist I honestly hoped so. I thought, let’s answer the call to action and challenge some dominant discourses around Global Humanitarian Contexts, if not, who will?

When we first started our student working group I don’t believe any of us imagined (well maybe Dr. Charles did) that we would write a book chapter and present at the AAMFT 2016 conference. I thought my experience was so centralized and individual, I was so foolish! As a systems trained therapist I should’ve realized that my experience in the end does not belong solely to me, but is shared, changed, and perhaps even adopted by others. I can only hope that this presentation (which included student voices like my own) has offered a kind of rippling effect in our AAMFT community, perhaps resembling the ripples we’ve left in one another’s lives.

Daisy PsyD Student, Our Lady of the Lake University

AAMFT 2016 was my second time attending and the first time presenting. I was nervous and fearful. Not of the presentation itself but at the possibility that I would not be able to convey my ideas to the audience. Shoufi Mafi, our OLLU student working group on global mental health, gave me one of the best opportunities of my career and I wanted to make sure that it was well represented.

As I prepared for the presentation, I talked with a close friend about the idea I would be presenting. She very bluntly told me she was confused. She stated “it just feels like a double edge sword for the ‘average’ person. How can an ‘average’ person who has only ever been taught to respond to what is in front of them, think about it from a larger scale?” She was referring to the connection I made with Anthony Bourdain and feeding the children in Haiti. She followed with “if they feed them one day it’s not good enough, but if they don’t help at all is it worse?” My friend’s remarks sent me down my own rabbit hole. I questioned my part of the presentation. As I tried to get out of the rabbit hole, I asked myself the same questions she posed me with. What am I trying to convey to the audience? Am I saying that we shouldn’t intervene? These questions followed me to the day of the presentation. I thought to myself "who am I to talk about this subject?" It was made known to me that members of the audience have had much more experience than I have. I worried that my section of the chapter would feel naïve, perhaps even repetitive to the attendees. How would I contribute to the field? As I pondered my questions I came to the conclusion that the mere fact that we are having the conversation about global mental health is a contribution. I explained to my friend that I was not suggesting that we shouldn’t help. I was suggesting that we should do it cautiously and with humility. It is a complex collaborative effort that should be discussed. Presenting at AAMFT conference reiterated my sentiment and I am very proud that I was able to take part.

Laurie L Charles, PhD LMFT, AAMFT Clinical Fellow & Approved Supervisor & Faculty, Our Lady of the Lake University

I’ve lost count of how many AAMFT conferences I’ve attended, but when I got an email a couple of months ago telling me I qualified as a “Longtime Member,” and could go to a special reception and wear the ominously black “Longtime Member” ribbon, I realized it is probably a lot! But I’m not sure I’ll experience any AAMFT conference like this one. Conferences can be fun because it is a chance to run into friends, colleagues, and, of course, hear the current set of family therapy rock stars whose work in both form and content I deeply respect. Hearing Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, speak was lovely, and one reason I was so excited to go to the conference. It was icing on the cake for me to co-present, “Family Therapy in Global Humanitarian Contexts,” based on a book I edited with my colleague Dr. Gameela Samarasinghe, that we published June 2016 by Springer. Our book has 11 chapters, and for me, the most powerful one is the final one, written by my five co-presenters at AAMFT, two of whom (Catalina and Daisy) are also reflecting in this blog. Our presentation was early on a Saturday morning and I was a bit surprised 52 people had registered to attend it.

Although I talk often about the work that is discussed in the book, I am often uncertain what U.S. family therapists really think about international work, or humanitarian aid, or the combination of those two things in a Venn diagram with family therapy training. My students and colleagues at OLLU are very immersed in these ideas in our setting in San Antonio, and also in our contexts of friends, colleagues, and loved ones we know in different parts of the globe. The people in the audience of our session had very specific reasons to come, I soon learned. One of them came up to me right away, and told me about how she is on the board of an organization that has offices in various regions of the world. As an MFT, she is considered the “mental health” expert on the board, and often finds herself in a position of having to make recommendations to do with the very content we were discussing. Another participant talked about her job and how it required her to provide family therapy training for host country nationals in places where her organization, based in the U.S., also has partnerships with other organizations working with refugees in other parts of the world. She, too, was looking for guidance and for this reason was attending our session. Another participant, reflecting to us at the end of the session, said something I found very compelling and also, highly important to state: “You asked us at the beginning who is doing this kind of work…we are all doing this kind of work….it’s in our offices and in our communities wherever we are.” I couldn’t have said it better.

I’ve only presented at AAMFT a handful of times. All have been memorable. But this one, AAMFT 2016, will stand out. A highlight I will not soon forget was this presentation, and watching my former students, co-contributors in our book, deliver with such sophistication and compelling reflections the ideas they have developed over the years, crystallized in one hour, for an audience of our peers. Well done. And looking forward to next year.

About This Book:

“This book, ‘Family Therapy in Global Humanitarian Contexts’ (Springer 2016), brings together a diverse set of clinicians, scholars, and researchers actively using systemic family therapy ideas within the context of ongoing or recent humanitarian intervention. The contributions focus on critical issues specific to the practice of family therapy within global mental health contexts, with a particular attention to the humanitarian sphere. Issues covered include treatment across cultures and language barriers, work in settings with covert and overt threats, practice in low-resource situations, and the creation of a family therapy program that relates to peace-building, reconciliation, and post-war discourse. The diverse group of authors contributes practical information and content specific to the training, supervision and/or delivery of family-based services, and offer specific principles and recommendations for family therapy practitioners and researchers."

-Laurie Lopez-Charles, PhD, LMFT-S

If you would like to purchase this wonderful book please visit

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