Master's of Family Therapy and Counseling High Conflict Divorces
Master's of Family Therapy (MFT) at Thomas Jefferson University
by Stephanie Small
Published March 21, 2011
Priscilla Singleton, LCSW, LMFT, spends her days helping families through the transition of divorce.
Troubled by the impact that high-conflict divorce has on children – as well as the “fragmented and disorganized way many professionals tend to deal with these families” – she and colleague Michele Southworth, J.D., LMFT, launched the Center for Families in Transition at Council for Relationships in 2005 and have since partnered with Thomas Jefferson University
to run the Master's of Family Therapy program.
Is this the field of study for you?
It’s a field that never would have existed sixty, or even fifty years ago. “The divorce rate increased after the 1950’s,” Singleton explains, adding “Some historians believe this was related to the economic prosperity of that time and a new expectation that marriage should provide personal fulfillment and high quality relationships.” In other words, our standards have risen. And the traditional reasons for marriage, such as sexual access and economic stability, are far less relevant today.
The Center offers a systems approach to divorce and separation. Staffed by highly trained clinicians, it provides a wide array of services, including family, individual, and group therapy, mediation, co-parent counseling and legal consultation. As a training institution, it also offers education for clinicians, attorneys and judges, and an annual two-day seminar on separation and divorce.
Singleton explains that clients access the Center for a wide variety of reasons. Some parents, “keeping a keen eye on the best interests of their children,” seek their assistance through a more conscious divorce process. Other parents arrive via court order. “These are by far the most painful situations,” says Singleton. “Children are lost in their parents’ battles and left feeling abandoned emotionally, caught in the middle between two people they love, and pressured to take a side in the midst of the conflict.”
Divorce sometimes seems to be everywhere – not just on a personal level, but nationally too. Our hunger for celebrity gossip drives magazines and television shows to chronicle the stars’ personal lives, and divorces and separations are aired in great and gory detail. Given the amount of stress involved in the average divorce, it would make sense that a high-profile divorce would come with its own difficulties.
Singleton’s concern in these cases is for the children. “I worry…for the children of these couples, because their lives are exposed in ways they can’t control. Children hear details of their parents’ lives that they might otherwise never have known, and this overload of information and the public exposure may leave these children isolated and emotionally unprotected,” she explains.
Does assisting families in transition appeal to you? Could you see yourself counseling the members of a system that’s changing, often painfully, and helping them to create something new? Consider enrolling in the Master's of Family Therapy (MFT) program
at Thomas Jefferson University and take Singleton’s Families in Transitions class. You may not end up with Sandra Bullock and Jesse James in your waiting room, but you’ll be providing an invaluable service to families in distress.
Stephanie Small is a Boulder-based psychotherapist, holistic nutritionist, and writer with a BA in English from Yale University and an MSW from the Smith College School for Social Work.