Learning by doing
An assignment to help others turned into a lesson for a group of marriage and family therapy (MFT) students.
Members of the Mentoring/Connecting class painted a fence, painted over graffiti and cleaned the yard for a woman and her adult daughter, who is in a wheelchair, in Farmersville in November. The class is a requirement for MFT, a Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary program offered on the main FPU campus as well as at the Visalia Center, where the eight students in this class study.
Fall 2013 was the first time the activity has been part of the Mentoring/Connecting curriculum. The class is a first professional experience for students and helps them discern their calling, according to Autumn Lindberg, M.A., LMFT, who teaches the class and directs the Visalia MFT program.
Lindberg connected the students and family through Hands in the Community (hnconline.org/home.html), a community-church agency on whose board she serves. The idea was for students to help someone while getting a look what being a therapist really means. “My lens was: How does every experience we have inside and outside the classroom affect us as therapists?” Lindberg said.
There were a couple of surprises: It was at least three class sessions before the students decided to talk to the woman herself. (Lindberg thought this had already happened because one student had called and visited the house, but that student hadn’t spoken to anyone.) “That was a teachable moment,” Lindberg said.
Students also first thought the problem was a leaky roof, but in fact the roof had been neglected so long the whole inside of the house was ruined. On the one hand, the enormity of the family’s need began to seem overwhelming; on the other, some wondered if they were being scammed. They also asked whether it mattered if they were being deceived if the family truly needed help.
This is a common issue for therapists, Lindberg said. “At what point are we colluding and at what point are we helping?”
Lindberg focused conversations in class and with the family on what was possible given the number of students, the amount of time and the lack of budget. Students also learned the value of just holding someone’s hand and listening. “Learning to shift from ‘this is way overwhelming’ to ‘this is what I can do,’--this is the process every therapist, and maybe any kind of servant, must go through,” she said.
Photos by Ellie Mullins