Teal Background

Join us for our 40th Annual
Meeting and Open Conference
in Austin, TX
June 21-24, 2018

Hosted at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center

Relational Activism: How We Advocate For, Support, and Sustain Relationships in the Contemporary Era

[working title]  


More information coming soon! Call for Proposals will go out later this year.




About the Conference

Leaders in the mental health field from the U.S. and around the globe will showcase their work in presentations that illustrate a wide reach of individual, couple, and family therapy in a variety of contexts and applications, both clinical and non-clinical. The 39th Annual Meeting and Open Conference includes Continuing Education Credits with full registration.

The conference will officially open on Thursday, June 21 and will end on Saturday, June 23rd, with the annual AFTA Awards Ceremony Dinner. There will be an all-day workshop open to the public on Sunday, June 24th.

Our Plenary Speakers will cover a range of topics addressing innovation in our field. Additionally, Interest Groups and Network Conversations will provide opportunities for in-depth discussions. The format this year will offer concurrent sessions as well as familiar AFTA events such as Pearls of Wisdom, the Poster Festival, Institutes, and Special Events.

For more information about the 40th Annual Meeting and Open Conference, contact us.

2017 Plenaries

Thursday, June 1 

The Politics of Personhood and Clinical Work:
Reflecting on our Fluid, Emergent, and Performative Identities

Panel: Jacqueline Hudak, Saliha Bava, Elijah Nealy

Perhaps at no time in our history has the cultural landscape been so present, in a sustained way, in the therapy room. As family therapists, through conversation and our activities of theorizing, researching, and writing, we are active participants in these textual and lingual constructions: how we think, frame, and name ourselves, and our contexts, are forms of practice. Too often the metaphors we use concretize identity(ies), such that they lose expansiveness or the conversation becomes polarized. Drawing on the notion of how hyperlinked identity allows for the fluidity of identities, which are centered & de-centered, within the shifting relational contexts we inhabit throughout the life cycle, we will explore the discursive nature of identities as they manifest in therapy for both the clinician and the couples and families we see.

How can we develop more expansive conversations about personhood as we invoke the complex network of texts that comprise our intersectional identities? In these current times that can be so polarizing, how can we talk about our experiences in ways that make these social processes more explicit? Our goal is to move back and forth between what is happening in the streets, in academia, in our clinical practices, and in our lives. Learning Objectives: Participants will learn how to: (1) Deconstruct identity as a fluid, emergent, performative and non-binary construct, which changes and evolves throughout the life cycle and varying social contexts; (2) Introduce the construct of hyperlinked identity that promotes intersectionality and intertextuality; and (3) Define the clinical relevance of the overlapping and interdependent systems of dominance as they shape identities and relationships.

Friday, June 2

Innovative Practices with Children and their Families Facing Ongoing Life-threatening Situations
Moderator: Frederick Wamboldt
Speakers: Brian Distelberg, Ayse Nazlim Hagmann, Howard Stevenson

MEND: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Chronic Illness
Speaker: Brian Distelberg

Between 50-75% of adolescent struggle to properly manage the treatment protocol for their chronic illness. Psychosocial interventions for pediatric chronic illness have been shown to be effective in supporting the management of the illness. When these interventions are family systems based, they also offer a stronger and more sustainable effect. It has been suggested that family system interventions help not only reduce the stress, which directly and indirectly effect the child and caregivers, but changes in the family system itself help maintain this stress reduction long after the child leaves the intervention. This presentation will focus on the MEND (Mastering Each New Direction) program. MEND is a multidiscipline family systems psychosocial outpatient program. It was developed to intervene at the family, as well as internal cognitive and biological, stress levels to improve illness treatment adherence but also the systems that maintain health in the child and the family. Brian Distelberg will briefly explain the MEND model and provide evidence of its potential benefits from two pilot studies and a cost benefit analysis. Learning Objectives: Participants will be able to: (1) Articulate why family systems approaches to chronic illness greatly outweigh individual level interventions; (2) Identify the most crucial, and best practices, for psychosocial interventions in pediatric chronic illness; and (3) Be exposed to one promising program and the conceptual, as well as multidisciplinary operational, components of the program.

Dialogic Practice: A Post-Systemic Approach
Speaker: Ayse Nazlim Hagmann (stepping in for Mary Olson)

I will present an approach to family therapy that has crystalized in the past fifteen years. It has a cluster of names – “dialogic practice,” “dialogical therapy,” “open dialogical practices,” and so forth. This way of working presents the intersection of the family therapy tradition – particularly the system wing of the field that emphasizes language and communication – with the ideas of Russian philosopher, Mikhail Bahktin. Jaakko Seikkula was the first to conceptualize therapeutic conversation as dialogic in Bakhtin’s sense. It emphasizes creating common language, holding multiple voices, and embodying a stance of “being with,” rather than “doing to.” The term “Open Dialogue,” from which this approach derives, refers to the entire community-based psychiatric system in Finnish Western Lapland in which dialogical therapy was refined and first evaluated for psychiatric crises, in particular, first-time psychosis. With Open Dialogue, the Finnish team reported, in two studies, that 80% of their youngsters with psychosis were working, studying, or looking for a job after 5 years and had either no or mild residual symptoms. There were fewer hospitalizations and much less neuroleptic medication prescribed when compared to standard treatment. Similar outcomes are now being reported in a pilot study in the U.S. Originally embedded in a psychiatric system of care, the principles and practices of Open Dialogue have become widely adapted to other kinds of situations, including couple and family therapy. In this plenary talk, I will give a brief overview and describe working this way as a family therapist in the U.S. with adolescents and their families experiencing severe crises. The social justice implications of the approach for the U.S. will be addressed. Learning Objectives: Participants will be able to: (1) Acquire a basic overview of Dialogic Practice in family therapy with adolescents; (2) Learn the outcomes for Open Dialogue and first-episode psychosis; and (3) Understand the significance of Dialogic Practice/Open Dialogue for a socially just practice.

Families Talking to Children about Race:
How Color-Blindness Affects Your Health

Speaker: Howard C. Stevenson

Families and teachers may question how best to raise or teach children within the current national climate of racial unrest. This presentation will focus on recent research regarding how parents and teachers may navigate the thorny issues of racial stress, socialization and equity as they seek to raise and teach young children toward healthy academic and life outcomes. Suggestions for integrating racial literacy and a more complex framing of racial politics for families and therapists will be proposed. Learning Objectives: Participants will (1) Learn about current research on racial disparities in health outcomes for teachers and children; (2) Learn the research support for engaging racial encounters directly on behalf of family and children dynamics; (3) Practice racial literacy strategies of storytelling and emotional regulation to use in face-to-face therapy encounters with families and colleagues.

Friday, June 2

Audacious Action with Families and Communities
Moderator: Paulette Hines
Speakers: Erica Wilkins, Kameelah Mu'Min Rashad, Michael Tierney

Beyond the Privilege of the Therapist's Chair: Utilizing A Systemic Perspective to Work towards Radical Change
Speaker: Erica Wilkins

The presenter will describe her approach to a career as a Couple and Family Therapist while also embracing an identity of being an advocate/activist/clinician/educator. She will provide an overview of the ways in which, the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin and countless others, deepened her commitment to her community as well as to training the next generation of MFTs to become clinician/advocates/activists. The usefulness of approaching collaborations with community organizers from a systemic perspective will be discussed. Additionally, Dr. Wilkins will discuss strategies for engaging students in advocacy/activism, methods for including discussions about social justice and community terrorism within the therapeutic conversation and the management of “perceived resistance” to these discussions within the classroom, therapy room and the classroom. Learning Objectives: Participants will: (1) Learn how to address the dehumanizing effects of terrorism within educational settings, therapy; (2) Explore strategies for collaborating with community organizers as a way to fight against terrorism towards marginalized populations; and (3) Examine the idea of “perceived resistance” within the classroom, therapy room and the classroom.

#BlackMuslimFamily: Resisting Intersectional Invisibility through Spiritual Resilience & Affirming Cultural Narratives
Speaker: Kameelah Mu'Min Rashad

The Black community is continually bombarded with negative messages and images of inferiority, pathology and criminality. Black families continue to be depicted as dysfunctional, fatherless, drug addicted and fundamentally defective. Enduring and erroneous notions of Black pathology also impact Black Muslims. Black/African Americans represent the single largest racial group in the American Muslim community; with Black people representing nearly 60% of US born converts. Black Muslims experience intersectional or “acute” invisibility as they are not perceived as typical members of the American Muslim community (with Arab and South Asian Muslims viewed as the norm) or of the Black community (in which Christianity is the dominant religion). They also experience marginalization due to anti-Black sentiment within the Muslim community. The perceived homogenization of American Muslims and phenomenon of intersectional invisibility has resulted in the almost complete erasure of Black Muslim attitudes, experiences and perspectives as viewed from the lens of psychology, counseling and emotional well-being. Ahmed & Reddy (2007) concluded that “Indigenous Muslims [primarily African American] often face three common mental health challenges: (a) family tension, (b) guilt, (c) identity issues”. Additional stressors related to racial discrimination, religious stereotyping and profiling, cultural taboos, historical trauma and marginalization are also evident. This brief presentation will provide an overview of the Black/African American Muslim community, identify stressors that exacerbate mental health challenges and impact family wellness, and highlight ways in which the community draws on spiritual and cultural resilience to resist oppression, integrate religious and racial identity, celebrate family and promote healthy psychological well-being. Lastly, it will provide an example of an ‘audacious action’ (#BlackMuslimFamily twitter campaign) launched via social media to combat stereotypes about Black Muslim families. Learning Objectives: Participants will be able to: (1) List three stressors that impact family wellness; (2) Discuss barriers to seeking counseling and behavioral health services; (3) Explore sources of spiritual and cultural resilience and religio-racial narratives within the Black/African American Muslim community; and (4) Identify several faith-based, culturally competent resources offering valuable assistance to the Black/African American Muslim community.

West Virginia Dreamers
Speaker: Michael Tierney

In 1993, a parent on Big Ugly Creek in the heart of the southern coalfields of West Virginia commented, “The problem around here is that they don’t teach you to dream.” In response, the West Virginia Dreamers program works with families to support their children from infancy to graduation in some of the most economically challenged rural and urban communities of a state that has seen little change, hope or respect from political leaders or systems over the past several decades. The programs also serve as a leadership and employment path for parents from casual volunteer to full time program managers or other professions such as teaching. The presentation will cover the coalfields’ history as an energy colony that inculcated pessimism toward political change that persists to this day, the challenges parents face in supporting their children in a county with patterns of chronic educational under attainment, and models for breaking through young people’s hopelessness in an uncertain economy. Learning Objectives: Participants will learn: (1) To explore the persistence of political hopelessness and social pessimism from coalfield communities experience as an energy colony; (2) Models of engaging family members who have been alienated from the school system from their own educational experience; and (3) Youth leadership models that challenge bleak political discourse and make West Virginia one of the most exciting places to organize today.

Saturday, June 3

Innovative Practices Across Cultures
Moderator: Nydia Garcia-Preto
Speakers: Khawla Abu-Baker, Jelisaveta-Sanja Rolovic, Rockey Robbins

Palestinian Young Couples in Israel: Juggling between Modernity and Traditions, Equality and Patriarchy
Speaker: Khawla Abu-Baker

Palestinian couples in Israel have experienced tremendous changes in recent years: they are more educated, occupy a larger portion of the market place, are more involved in political life, and have fewer children than in the mid-20th century. Young men increasingly prefer to marry educated, working women. However, enacting values representing the modernity that women adopt create marital conflicts in patriarchal culture. Patriarchal social norms legitimate men’s inconsistency in choosing between traditional and modern norms in daily events with their spouses. The speaker will address how her research and clinical work both indicate damage to the welfare of married women, as a result of these meeting points between modernity and traditions. The intersectionality of social, political, economic and gender aspects of modernity and the technical, rather than moral, adaptation of modernity are among the reasons of this situation. Learning Objectives: Participants will learn: (1) To have a close look regarding ways patriarchal societies control modern women achievements; (2) About the influence of gender inequality on couple's relation and individual mental health; and (3) Offer culturally sensitive tools when working with Arab couples.

Reconciling Home and Homeland: “I Talk about Child Sexual Abuse: Empowering Serbia to Recognize and Address Child Sexual Abuse," a UNICEF sponsored project
Speaker: Jelisaveta-Sanja Rolovic

This presentation describes how I applied systemic family therapy principles to overcome social, institutional, and professional biases and the sigma surrounding child sexual abuse (CSA) in Serbia. Serbian culture maintains a profound social stigma around discussion of CSA. This leads to a trend of under-reporting by children and families and prevents health care workers from providing adequate services to children who have been victims of sexual abuse. In response to this unacceptable state of affairs and in order to facilitate the protection of children from abuse and neglect, significant legislative measures were put in place in Serbia over the last decade. In 2009 a special protocol, mandated by the Serbian Government, was implemented for all healthcare providers, social welfare workers and the police to protect children from abuse. Yet, despite advances in the policy sphere, there remain substantial cultural, social, psychological and institutional barriers to the implementation of these protocols in the real world. As a result, only a small proportion of children who have experienced CSA come to the attention of social/health service providers. In response to this troubling gap, I created a project to enhance dialogue among service providers by offering educational and psychosocial support to enhance their ability to recognize signs of CSA, speak openly with patients about CSA, and thus implement the existing protocol. In this presentation, I will also discuss what it has been like for me to have a professional homecoming as well as a profound personal experience in the process. Learning Objectives: In this presentation we will: (1) Explore the application of systemic family therapy principles to overcoming social, institutional, and professional biases and the sigma surrounding child sexual abuse (CSA) in Serbia; (2) Discuss the ways of creating a culturally sensitive and collaborative learning environment with healthcare providers and social welfare workers that facilitates a dialogue while offering educational and psychosocial support to enhance their ability to recognize signs of CSA, and speak openly with patients about CSA; and (3) Examine dilemmas involved in cross-cultural complexities of teaching and learning internationally, ways that one can position oneself that either contribute to or address potential issues of power in cross-cultural consultation, and share one academic’s personal and professional experience of homecoming.

Working with a Native American Family when they were preparing for a Naming Ceremony for their Son
Speaker: Rockey Robbins

This presentation will introduce you to the sessions done with a Muscogee Creek Native American family who came for Family Counseling to help them work through the challenging ordeal of a Naming Ceremony for their son. The presenter will describe the yearlong preparations and part of the ceremony itself. The ceremony and the therapy sessions will be put in the context of a Critical Race theory which helps to understand the loss of cultural capital and how this ceremony may contribute something to restoring the possibility of a young Native Americans development as a tribal person. The planning of the Ceremony will be described in a way that might influence others who wish to help devise a “coming of age” ceremony for persons who might come from other cultures. The presentation will describe the use of several interventions: Paradoxical documentation, Completing the Circle, Grafting and Witnessing. Lastly, a brief discussion will focus on how this intervention may be relevant to therapist in various cultural situations. Learning Objectives: Participants will learn: (1) What a Native American Naming Ceremony consist of and its potential value for a community and a young person; (2) About vital theoretical ideas to consider when working with Native American Families; and (3) About specific interventions that were helpful when working with a Native American family in the context of a Naming Ceremony.