AFTA Interest Groups

Interest Groups are primarily online communities that provide an opportunity for AFTA members to gather and discuss a particular area of interest, generate new ideas, and to form a supportive community. Interest Groups are volunteer-led and have no dues or membership requirements. Many choose to meet annually at the conference for the purpose of generating conversation, rather than providing rigorous academic presentations.

New Interest Groups need to be submitted by an AFTA member with eight (8) signatures for support. To start an Interest Group, please see the Academy’s policy on Interest Groups or contact


Ambiguous Loss

Chair: Pauline Boss

The purpose and on-going focus of the Ambiguous Loss Interest Group is to move from the theory and research of ambiguous loss to clinical application and teaching; to take the concept of ambiguous loss and apply it to strengthen families with major mental illness; to provide a forum for therapists working with complicated loss to share ideas about resiliency; and to provide a forum for strengthening the self of the therapist.

This interest group began in 2005. It grew out of an interest to take the concept of ambiguous loss and apply it to families dealing with major mental illness. We also focus on children diagnosed with autism and other disorders on the autism spectrum. As this Interest Group has grown, we have broadened the types of AL we discuss from major mental illness to chronic illness, dementia, traumatic brain injury, palliative care, consultation-liaison psychiatry training, family and community interventions.

The most exciting outcome of this Interest Group is that you can take away a new theoretical lens to help individuals and families move forward despite ongoing ambiguity-and for us to feel professionally adept despite no closure.

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Community-Based Programs for Families

Chairs: Martha Edwards, Anne Fishel

The focus of this interest group is on creating, implementing, and evaluating community- based programs for families. Community-based settings include schools, hospitals, clinics, shelters, social service agencies, religious institutions, prisons, and other places where families congregate and receive services. We host presentations and discussions about all aspects of family-centered program development, including conducting research with the intended participating families on what they need and desire in a program; engaging community members and other "stakeholders" as collaborators; practices to build in and stay attuned to dimensions of difference, privilege, and oppression; program interventions/formats/activities to assist families with the particular challenges of their lives; effective funding strategies; and methods of evaluation. We welcome a broad range of program foci, philosophies, and methods.

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Couples Therapy

Chairs: Corky Becker, Mona Fishbane

The Couple Therapy Interest Group has been meeting for many years, and has evolved over time. In recent years we have focused on issues of working with impasses in couple therapy, forgiveness, values and couple therapy, relational approaches to working with couples, working with affect in couple therapy, and integrating neurobiology and attachment research and theory into our work with couples.

Our format is to set a frame with brief presentations around the topic, then facilitate group discussion. The leadership of the group and decisions about future topics evolve each year and flow from our collaborative dialogue.

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Evaluating Postmodern/Narrative/Constructionist Therapies

Chair: Victoria Dickerson

Though postmodern/narrative/constructionist approaches to therapy lack a conventional evidence-base (e.g., empirical support), there is growing support for their use. There remains, however, a bias towards CBT oriented interventions because they have provided funders with the evidence of sustained outcomes that make them appear credible.

In this Interest Group, we explore how to develop an evidence base for the effectiveness of postmodern/narrative/constructionist therapies that is both congruent with their conceptual foundations and also sufficiently robust to demonstrate model fidelity and positive outcomes. Our ongoing conversation is an opportunity to discuss efforts already made to evaluate these types of therapies in ways that are congruent with how they are practiced. We discuss the difference between theories/practices that are empirically supported, those that are evidence-based and practice-based evidence. We encourage those attending to bring stories of their past experiences with such evaluations.

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Family Therapy Research

Chair: Sandra Stith

Research Interest Group will focus on international systemic research. Participants will: (1) learn about the process of developing international systemic research collaboration; (2) examine and discuss their own ideas of developing collaboration; (3) discuss what they regard as “systemic research;” and (4) learn more about the EFTA and the work of EFTRG.

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Film, Families, and Family Therapy

Chair: Gonzalo Bacigalupe

Films offer a powerful opportunity for beginning and experienced clinicians to explore underlying assumptions informing the assessment of the contexts that frame our patients’ lives. Carefully edited clips of three recent and extraordinary movies will serve as a start point for focused dialogue about how cultural and professional discourses frame our assessment of traumatic situations in intercultural contexts. A revised handout of film ideas for use in clinical and educational venues plus specific exercises will be shared with participants.

The learning objectives for this Interest Group are 1) to assess prevailing cultural assumptions about families in cross-cultural contexts though the use of film; 2) to dialogue about the use of film to explore complex self of the therapist dilemmas; and 3) to develop criteria for what may constitute good practices in the use of film for family therapy training

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Masculinities: Breaking the Male Code

Chairs: Robert Garfield, Michael LaSala

This Interest Group focuses on ideas, clinical work, and research related to men’s issues and their applicability to family therapy. We will discuss clinical issues around engaging men in individual, couples, family and group therapy. Men’s issues will be examined from a multicultural perspective taking into account class, culture, race, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and the intersection these dynamics may have on the lives of men. The importance of male intimacy and friendship related to men’s individual health, relationships, and quality of life will also be addressed.

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Mindfulness and Family/Couple Therapy

Co-Chairs: Martha Edwards, Linda Longo-Lockspeiser

In this interest group, we will explore the connections among the body, mind, and spirit and how to integrate these into family/couple therapy. Through a brief presentation, experiential exercises, and group discussion we will focus on intuitive knowing, as compared with rational knowing, examining how the body knows and how to help our clients pay attention to and make use of that knowledge. We look at how therapists can use seven channels of experience (auditory, visual, emotional, sensation, imaginal, energetic and movement) to heighten their attunement with family members and family members’ connections with one another. At the close of this interest group, participants will be able to: (1) recognize the connections among the body, mind, and spirit; (2) discuss how these connection can inform couples/family therapy; and (3) distinguish between intuitive knowing and rational knowing.

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Murray Bowen: Bowen Theory as the Basis for Therapy

Chair: James Smith

Research indicates that much of the factual depth and diversity of Bowen theory has been lost and distorted over time. This interest group was established to deal with these challenges. Each year, the focus is to: (1) have Dr. Bowen speak for himself about the theory or in a clinical interview on DVD; (2) have a distinguished clinician, who studied with Dr. Bowen, present related to the conference theme; and (3) discuss the ideas presented. Patricia Meyer, director of systemic training under Dr. Bowen, will be the guest presenter this year. Participants will be able to: (1) demonstrate the unique uses of Bowen theory in practice; (2) recognize Bowen’s theory from the original source; and (3) translate theory into practice techniques.

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Narrative of the Therapist

Chairs: Robert Carroll, Judith Landau

We will share our significant stories in which our personal experience with illness, death, and dying have changed us. In the course of our personal lives we have all encountered illness situations, which have required us to stretch ourselves and go through our own developmental changes. As clinicians, we all have a dual relationship to the work we do, both professional and personal. Participants of this Interest Group are invited to share their own significant stories and to participate in the subsequent discussions. We will discuss how we all have dual relationships to illness, death, and dying-personal and professional, ways to apply this knowledge to clinical situations, and how to use this knowledge in teaching and supervisory roles.

In this Interest Group we will look at the various ways in which power to heal, promote growth, and transform can be used clinically with individual, families, and in community. We will solicit healing anecdotes from participants regarding the ways in which they have utilized poetry, journaling and letters for themselves and in their clinical practices. Examples will be presented by the organizer.

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Racial Domination and Privilege

Chairs: Lisa Bibuld, David Trimble, Hugo Kamya

The premise of this ongoing interracial conversation is that the discourse of White supremacy permeates experience and action, and that its operations depend on one’s social location. In this conversation, we explore racial domination and privilege in our own lives, and in our conversation with you and with each other. In an atmosphere of respect, honesty, humility, and compassion, we agree to take on the risk of exploring manifestations of racial domination and privilege as they emerge in the conversation. Participants will: (1) recognize how the dominant discourse of White racial superiority in influences experience and action; (2) learn how to manage distressing emotions and stay in difficult conversation; and (3) develop new understandings of self and others when the unspoken is named and explored.

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Chair: Elisabeth Esmiol Wilson

The purpose of the Research Interest Group is to create a space where researchers can gather and share our family therapy research. We understand family therapy research to include all data driven studies utilizing qualitative and/or quantitative research methods to investigate couple, family and community problems. Our Interest Group welcomes all family therapy researchers and those interested in family therapy research. We welcome presentations from researchers about current research studies and offer a space for dialogue and collaboration regarding proposed and ongoing family research projects. Our hope is to build and support ongoing collaboration among family researchers and research organizations and to explore how we are advancing social justice perspectives through our research design and research methods.

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