A New Framework for Family Therapy

Christina Claudia M.A. ’23 is preparing to take her studies in marriage and family therapy at Wheaton back to her home country of Indonesia, providing families with faith-based, integrated language for relational and personal healing.

Words: Adrianna Wright ’01

Wheaton College IL Christina Claudia MA Marriage and Family Therapy

“You can only go as far with clients as you’ve explored yourself.”

As a student in the Wheaton College Graduate School’s Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program, Christina Claudia M.A. ’23 has delved deeply into what it means to be a Christian therapist.

“As David Van Dyke, our program director, once explained, it’s about preparing the soil, not planting the seeds,” Claudia said. “There is an implicit integration, where I can be a compassionate partner to provide space for a client to be with his or her emotions. This is part of God’s work as well.”

Several key experiences have shaped Claudia’s personal and academic journey as a therapist-in-training. After earning her undergraduate degree in psychology, Claudia returned to her home country of Indonesia to work at Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH), a private evangelical higher education institution connected to the international school that she attended as a child. She worked as a teaching assistant in the psychology department and also oversaw the student ministry organization of the psychology program, working primarily with students training to become school counselors. 

“When I asked these students about their goals for graduating, they often told me that they wanted to make their parents proud,” Claudia said. “I realized that in a culture that emphasizes filial piety, there are unique relational pressures that impact these students’ everyday lives.”

As part of her education at Wheaton, Claudia has put in groundwork to understand her own family background and how it impacts her counseling. Integrated into the MFT program curriculum, each cohort participates in a Personal and Professional Development Group, sifting through their own experiences in an effort to better walk alongside their future clients.

“You can only go as far with clients as you’ve explored yourself,” Claudia said.

In addition to rigorous textbook and discussion-based coursework, the MFT program at Wheaton emphasizes relationship building at the core of its mission. As such, Claudia has had ample opportunities to engage with real-life clients throughout her training. She’s currently completing her clinical internship with the Wheaton College Center for Family and Relational Health (CFRH) located just off-campus. During her first year, she was observed by faculty and fellow students over a video system while speaking with clients. This provided space for shared accountability and feedback within the cohort.

“We were the therapist in the room but we were not doing it alone,” Claudia said.

Now, she meets with clients herself, including individuals, families and couples. She believes her experience as part of a treatment team laid a firm foundation for her to be on her own. Claudia is also one of two MFT students working with the Sexual and Gender Institute at Wheaton College. Although her primary role involves research, she also sits in on clinical consultations related to sexual and gender identity concerns.

“I can see myself doing this kind of work in Indonesia,” Claudia said. “Something I long to do is give parents and children language to process this experience together.”

Upon graduation, Claudia plans to return to Indonesia to teach psychology and counseling courses at UPH. “I look forward to sharing what I have learned, especially what integration of psychology and Christianity can look like, to be a resource to help people in their journeys,” she said.