In 2014, Michael and Joella began working on a powerful concept. What if marriage and family therapists, who are specifically trained in systems theory, had their own assessment? What if MFTs didn’t ascribe to the bio-medical model? In other words, what if marriage and family therapists didn’t diagnose clients with mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder but instead we used our expertise to diagnose relationship problems or patterns of behavior that were harming the client.
Most diagnoses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress, have a limited purpose. Clients may feel their symptoms are validated for a moment but the terms are primarily used in our industry to bill insurance companies.
A diagnosis is not a treatment plan. Worst of all, it can be disempowering and reinforcing for clients. When those diagnoses were created the perspective was it is all permanent. However, the more scientist research the brain it seems the more adaptive the brain reveals itself to be. Which means, more than ever, society needs a language or a procedure for healing those ailments.
Joella and Michael became passionate about three primary questions:
- What do we do when someone no longer experiences depression or anxiety?
- How do we represent the people who experience healing from their symptoms?
- What will happen now that there is not way to show someone is recovered from mental illness AND healthcare records are in an electronic format that can follow people?
The systemic perspective that marriage and family therapists are trained in is powerful. It removes the dynamic of a professional telling people they are mental ill and instead offers powerful perspective shifts, motivating strategies, and best of all a map toward a client’s desired outcome. It steers clients toward what they can do. A systemic perspective also sees symptoms as red flags and warning lights pointing to what needs to change instead of medicating symptoms.
Fast forward to 2017, Michael and Joella are hard at work developing prototypes, soliciting the input from long standing professionals in the field, and researching the most effective tool. They are working on publishing the concept paper and a series of research articles outlining our findings.
In June of 2017 Joella and Michael presented the concept at the American Family Therapy Academy National Conference. It was great opportunity to connect with colleagues and remind others that our unique clinical assessment is imperative to the longevity of our field.