Whether you’re studying to become a marriage and family therapist like myself, or are a seasoned MFT, it’s probably safe to say you know a bit about the term “imposter syndrome.” I recall sitting in the very first class of my graduate program and wondering if I had bit off more than I could chew! It wasn’t that I was unsure of my own potential; but more so that I was greatly impressed (and slightly intimidated, if we’re being honest) by the vast amount of talent and wisdom that filled the room. If you can recall an experience like this in your own life you’ll understand the similar feeling I had when traveling to Washington, D.C. as part of the AAMFT Family TEAM.
What is the AAMFT Family TEAM?
One of the core elements of the AAMFT is to actively advocate for the profession of marriage and family therapy. This includes acting to protect the recognition and respectability of marriage and family therapy as a mental health profession. AAMFT is actively involved in many federal (and state) initiatives in order to protect and advance the profession as a whole. The role of the AAMFT Family TEAM (Family Therapist Education and Advocacy Movement) is to:
- Provide interested members with the latest developments in our federal advocacy efforts,
- Organize members to take action with their Congresspeople when our issues reach a critical point in the federal legislative process
2018 Family Team Visit to Capitol Hill
I was invited to attend Capitol Hill as a representative of the AAMFT Family Advocacy Team on April 10-11, 2018. The purpose of this visit was to continue ongoing advocacy for the inclusion of both marriage and family therapist and mental health counselors to be recognized as mental health care providers in Medicare programs. The two key congressional bills focused on during this visit were S 1879 and HR 3032.
As a member of a key congressional district, I was paired with AAMFT contracted Federal Lobbyist David Connolly. Mr. Connolly works closely with the AAMFT as well as the CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapy), as a trusted liaison between the organization(s) and congress. His knowledge in law and congressional matters is a key factor in the success of these visits, and I had the privilege of benefiting from the ample time he spent educating myself and other Family TEAM members on the congressional implications and the process of these bills.
During our visit, I quickly learned that a key area of focus in Congress currently is enacting measures that will help decrease the current rate of opioid addiction in the United States. In my meeting with the staff person of Senator Roy Blunt, I was able to speak to how allowing MFTs and MHCs to be included in Medicare programs would directly benefit this initiative. I explained the systemic nature of our profession, and the role that plays in facilitating change within mental health diagnoses such as addiction.
A Life-changing Story
One very memorable portion of my visit occurred before I stepped foot on Capitol Hill. David Connolly met me in the lobby of my hotel to accompany me to my scheduled meeting with Congress. As we rode towards our destination in our Uber, he explained to me the legislative background of the opioid addiction. I excitedly shared how crucial of a role the training I’m receiving as an MFT student plays in helping individuals that struggle with this.
In the midst of our conversation our Uber driver spoke up, apologizing for “eaves-dropping” on our conversation. We chuckled a bit and joked about how he didn’t really have much of choice but to overhear, considering our close quarters.
Our driver went on to tell us a very personal story about his own struggle with opioid addiction. I must admit, as an MFT graduate student with an Ethics class still fresh on my brain, my first thought was to make sure it was clear that I am NOT a licensed therapist… unsure of what route his abrupt disclosure might take.
He assured us that he was sharing information he thought might be important to let Congress know, and continued to divulge. As we arrived at our destination, I shared with him my appreciation for sharing such a vulnerable story, and walked away preparing to shift mental gears and ready myself for my meeting. Mr. Connolly, on the other hand, was in awe. He expressed how much he’d learned by simply hearing the manner I spoke with the driver and encouraged me to share his story in my meeting.
In that moment it dawned on me… in such a little time training as an MFT, the way I’d interacted with the driver had become normal to me! It’s engrained in who I am, and how I think. I am a systemic thinker who, as a default of the skill, is able to help change and encourage people simply by speaking to them! Despite me not being a licensed therapist, our driver felt he could be vulnerable in the moment. He, in essence, was saying to me, "Please take my voice with you, beyond the doors that I’m unable to accompany you through.”
In that humbling moment I was overcome with such an overwhelming sense of duty. Duty both to those in my profession; but to the future clients that I may be able to reach due to changes to current Medicare legislation. In that moment I realized that a marriage and family therapist is never something you do, it’s who you become. We facilitate change, and owe it to the communities we serve to make our services more accessible and affordable to all that choose to utilize them.
Join the Movement
Please let my visit be a confirmation that you are never too new to the profession or unversed in politics to be an advocate on the TEAM. The Family TEAM is a grassroots initiative of the AAMFT that could always use more hands on deck. Ideally, we could (and should) all play out roles to advocate for our profession. As systemic thinkers we know that a change anywhere in the system, affects the system overall. As is frequently stated in my own graduate program; “the whole is bigger than the sum of it’s parts.” Be a part of the movement! Learn more about the AAMFT Family TEAM and how you can make a difference.
If you would, please also take a moment to utilize this quick contact form to express to your Congressperson the importance of including MFTs in Medicare. Be sure to share on social media and via email as well. Use hashtags #MFTsInMedicare to help gain visual traction for this very impactful legislation.
Cynthia Wright is a student AAMFT member, and member of the AAMFT Family Team. She attends the Family Therapy Masters Program at Friends University – Kansas City, where she is currently entering the clinical phase and working as student therapist intern within her community. In her free time, Cynthia enjoys writing about the topics of faith, family, and career on her website.