Gaining recognition for couple and family psychology in practice settings

Ways to achieve Div. 43’s goal to increase the visibility of couple and family psychology are discussed.

By Corinne Datchi, PhD, ABPP

This year’s divisional theme and goal is to increase the visibility of couple and family psychology (CFP) in the broader field of psychology. This theme is an invitation to highlight the contribution of couple and family psychologists to the psychological understanding of human behaviors and the treatment of clinical problems.  It is also an invitation to reflect on how we, CFP practitioners, contribute to the advancement and recognition of our specialty in diverse clinical settings.  In this column, I will identify some of the ways we enhance the visibility of CFP in practice settings, and briefly describe the initiatives I will implement in order to support this goal.

We couple and family psychologists perform a variety of functions, and the boundary between education, practice, and research does not truly represent our multifaceted involvement in training, clinical and scientific activities.  In everyday practice, we serve as consultants, supervisors, and service providers; as such, we have the opportunity to advance the visibility of CFP in clinical settings by bringing to the table our perspective on clinical problems and our knowledge of best CFP practice.  We can educate our colleagues about the systemic epistemology of CFP.  We can also advocate for systemic treatment approaches and demonstrate the effectiveness of our CFP interventions by assessing and documenting our client outcomes.

Continuing education is critical to best psychological practice and includes keeping abreast of scientific advances in CFP.  In the past 30 years, one of the most significant contributions of CFP to the field of professional psychology has been the development and testing of integrative therapy models for specific clinical problems and populations (e.g., Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy, Functional Family Therapy).  However, training in these evidence-based CFP models requires resources (e.g., time and money) that are not readily available to most psychologists and thus that limit the dissemination of CFP science in clinical settings.  Today’s challenge is to identify how we can promote the use of empirical knowledge and expand the implementation of evidence-based treatments (EBTs) to a variety of mental health agencies as well as private practice.  Practice-research networks (PRNs) provide a framework for transporting EBTs to communities of practice.  What are PRNs? And how can the society support the development of PRNs for the dissemination of CFP science? These are questions I would like to address with Galena Rhoades, vice president for science.

Interprofessional dialogue and partnerships are the key words of my first year as vice president for practice. To increase the visibility of CFP, I will first create opportunities to highlight the unique value of CFP to the practice of psychology. I will engage the members of our Society in interdivisional conversations designed to publicize our specialty and to show the relevance of CFP to other areas of psychology. For example, I will offer a series of free clinical case consultations that will bridge diverse interests in psychology, such as multiculturalism and sex therapy.  Racial and cultural diversity, sexual obsessions and compulsions, and couple relationships are the first topics we will discuss.  These consultations will be advertised on the division email list.  Readings, video clips and other materials derived from the consultations will be posted on the division’s website as a training resource for clinicians. To increase the visibility of CFP practitioners, the services they provide, and the populations they serve, I will also survey the membership and build a couple and family psychology directory that will be accessible to the public on the division’s website. Last, I will communicate to the Board of Professional Affairs our division’s interest in the activities of the Board and will draw attention to CFP’s role in the promotion of mental health.

I invite you, the society’s members, to join me in my efforts to increase the visibility of CFP practice. Spread the word.  Inform one or two colleagues about the activities of the division.  Invite them to participate with you in our free case consultations.  Look out for our membership survey and consider sharing information about your clinical practice.  Send me comments and questions at so that we can discuss how to raise awareness of the significance of our role in the profession of psychology.