ncu-fall-2017-cover-profile-fostering

Fostering the Next
Generation of Therapists in an Online Environment

Written by Judy Tierney

In a field that specializes in understanding and counseling clients on complex family relationships, the ability to establish meaningful connections can be a critical factor in a practitioner’s success. By its nature, Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), requires open communication and partnership. Students pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in MFT at NCU have a great opportunity to begin building their networks early on to help better prepare them to evaluate and treat a wide variety of patient issues.

Dr. Aurelia Bickler Dr. Aurelia Bickler

It may seem unusual for an online university to offer well-respected programs in a discipline that so heavily relies on engagement and interaction. However, Dr. Aurelia Bickler, full-time faculty member for the Marriage and Family Sciences (MFS) Department in NCU’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, says that being online is one of the department’s greatest strengths. Exposure to professors who live and practice all over the world provides students, as well as other faculty members, with interactions they may not have access to at a traditional brick-and-mortar school.

“We have so many different perspectives on marriage and family therapy and on the content of our work,” says Bickler. “As a team, our faculty connects almost daily via video chats to ask each other questions, discuss issues we're having and offer unique insights about how to handle challenges.”

Dr. Bickler describes her colleagues as a perfect combination of intelligent, caring and supportive. “Our approach to working together is very team-oriented, and everyone is genuinely interested in helping one another grow individually and as a group,” she says. “There’s no sense of competition; it’s very collaborative.”

“Our approach to working together is very team-oriented, and everyone is genuinely interested in helping one another grow individually and as a group.”

Dr. Aurelia Bickler, Full-Time Faculty, Department of Marriage and Family Sciences

This mentality extends to students as well. For example, sometimes when Bickler and her colleague in Germany have clinical groups on the same day, they will combine the groups into one. “Her life and experience in Germany are very different than mine in South Florida,” explains Bickler, “and it’s really rewarding to see our students learn things from each of us in different ways.”

While the faculty work directly with students to offer resources and connect them with subject matter experts based on their particular areas of interest, the NCU Commons provides students with a virtual environment to interact with their peers. Additionally, certain assignments require students to reach out to professionals in their local communities. These connections help them establish their network as they prepare for the clinical part of their journey in their particular geographical location.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), since 1970, there has been a 50-fold increase in the number of marriage and family therapists in the U.S. “MFT is much more widely recognized as a profession today than it was 10 years ago, and this increase speaks volumes about where we’ll be 10 years from now,” says Bickler. “Now there is a greater understanding of how emotional, mental and physical health are intertwined and the value MFTs can provide in helping clients work through these issues.”

“It’s important to understand that we may not be able to solve every problem, but together with other professionals, we can create a plan that will help treat a client holistically.”

Dr. Aurelia Bickler

After several months of coursework, NCU’s director of clinical placement supports students in finding an internship in their area where they’ll begin to see patients on a weekly basis. It’s here that students have the greatest opportunity to polish their collaboration skills. By the time they graduate, students have hundreds of hours of client contact and solid experience working with a range of organizations both within and outside of the MFT field.

Collaboration is at the heart of virtually everything a student will experience during their internship. Bickler explains that being an effective therapist requires a deep dive into a client’s concerns to gain a comprehensive understanding of what they are experiencing. From there, it’s often necessary to partner with other professionals to provide the best solutions.

“If I have a client suffering from a deep state of sadness or depression, I may need to partner with a medical doctor, a yoga instructor or another expert who offers complementary skills and resources,” explains Bickler.

“It’s important to understand that we may not be able to solve every problem, but together with other professionals, we can create a plan that will help treat a client holistically.”

Bickler believes NCU’s approach to fostering collaboration throughout the entire student journey is paving the way for successful careers upon graduation. “I think you have to lead by example,” she concludes. “If you want to encourage collaboration, it’s important to be generous with your ideas and to support others. Our amazing team here provides that sort of environment for students.”