February 25, 2020
This blog features stories about the Wheaton College Graduate School. Recent alumna Fei Yee '19 and School of Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy professor, Dr. Jake Johnson, share their experience of the integration of faith and practice in Wheaton's M.A. Marriage and Family Therapy program.
Personal, Christian, and Professional: Integration in the MFT Program
The M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy mission is to “form Marriage and Family Therapists who are clinically skilled and who integrate their personhood as followers of Christ in their professional and personal lives.” This mission beautifully illustrates Wheaton’s integrative approach to personal, spiritual, and professional development. Wheaton’s MFT faculty focus on both the professional and the personal growth of their students, and believe that therapists can integrate the Christian faith within their professional practice.
This mentality is what first drew Fei Yee M.A. ’19 to the Wheaton College Graduate School and the MFT program. Following her interview for the program, Fei’s first impression was that the M.A. in MFT “seemed like it would be a place where I will be challenged to grow both as a clinician and as a person.”
Fei continued to experience this integrated approach throughout her time in the MFT program. “What surprised me first, and then again and again, was how the professors invested in students' personal well-being and growth.”
Fei’s experience speaks to the MFT faculty’s intentional and holistic approach to professional development. The professors in the program take seriously both rigorous academics and the importance of the individual person of the therapist, believing that both are essential in the formation of successful Marriage and Family Therapists. Fei remarks that her professors modeled vulnerability, and that they encouraged their students to do the same through considering their families of origin and their own stories of personal and relational development.
Fei, now an Associate Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in a local Marriage and Family Therapy clinic, notes that the best part of her MFT training at Wheaton is that it was just the beginning. “The real perk of being a therapist is that the learning never stops. As our professors said, ‘we cannot take our clients further than we have gone ourselves.’ This is a career where personal growth and professional growth feed off each other.”
The MFT program also seeks to integrate both faith and professional practice. Dr. Jake Johnson, Assistant Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy and MFT Clinical Training Coordinator, was somewhat surprised by this when he first joined the faculty of the School of Psychology, Counseling, and Therapy.
“For the longest time I thought that I had to keep my Christian faith and my professional practice in separate ‘buckets.’ My training had led me to believe that it would be unethical for me to allow these buckets to spill over and mix together.”
Despite the nagging feeling that much of who he was as a marriage and family therapist was informed by his Christian faith, Dr. Johnson worked hard to keep his professional bucket and Christian faith bucket separate until joining Wheaton’s faculty in 2013.
“When I arrived at Wheaton, I was surprised to see that many of my colleagues invited the spillover that I had been previously trained to avoid at all costs!” Johnson notes. “It has been a liberating journey to see that my Christian faith bucket can be responsibly spilled into my professional practice bucket without causing harm to myself or my clients. It has been freeing for me to come to understand that the ways in which I demonstrate humility, hospitality, and the love of Christ to my clients can fall within the bounds of the MFT code of ethics while also being congruent with Jesus’ call for me to love my neighbor as myself.”
Dr. Johnson now leads the Systematic Integration Lab. In this lab, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues investigate how to best educate and train MFT students, both from Wheaton and from other faith-based MFT programs, to mix the contents of their Christian faith buckets with their MFT buckets in an ethical manner that honors wherever clients may find themselves in relation to matters of religion and spirituality.
Dr. Johnson’s hope is that all MFT students can learn how to mix their buckets well, that they will grow both personally and professionally, and that they are ultimately formed practitioners both by the best available professional and academic resources and by their identities as followers of Jesus.
At the Wheaton College Graduate School, students become clinically and relationally competent therapists to meet the field's growing need, with a focus on interpersonal justice and Christian distinctiveness.