Why I decided to leave the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

This is a letter I recently submitted to my professional association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Our organization has become outdated, politically correct, and a complicit participant in the state-sponsored psycho-medical pharmaceutical complex. I’m not playing anymore.

September 4, 2013

Dear AAMFT:

After careful consideration, I have decided to let my membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy expire. This is something I have been considering for several years, and I finally got to the point this week as I am looking at my membership renewal application, at which I believe it is time to take this serious step.

For what it is worth, I thought I would state some of my reasons for letting my membership expire in the hope that my feedback might be helpful to the Board and to our membership. My experience at family therapy gatherings suggests that my thoughts are not typical, but I have a feeling that there may be a few more like me out there, that are reluctant to speak out for any number of reasons.

The local MFT’s in New Hampshire are fine people and many are friends. The leadership here is committed and outstanding. My reactions have to do with a lack of connection to the values and goals of the national guild.

I see the United States as a country in serious decline and part of a civilization in rapid decline. Yet, the organization that is my professional home does not seem to notice. We are not offering our members or the community at large any visible guideposts that would show that we are a group of civic-minded people that care about the world and are trying to do something about it. What big cultural issues do we stand for other than how we will be paid and who will be paying us? Being a family therapist used to mean something.

In my opinion, we have become just another bit player in the psycho-medical-pharmaceutical complex. We routinely diagnose and treat individual linear pathological medical conditions, betraying our own identity as systemic practitioners. I am tired of playing that illicit game. We look the other way, acting as enablers or directly participating in the corrupt pharmaceutical scandal that is addicting more than half of the population on some type of psychotropic medication, most of which medications have dubious positive effects and come with tragic side effects. Drug remedies undermine our own efforts at finding durable second order solutions to serious problems.

While we have been participating in this over-medication scandal, rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed throughout the Western world. Mental health practitioners including many of our own AAMFT members are diagnosing children with psychiatric disorders at alarming rates. The authors of articles in our professional publications use the arcane language of psychiatric illness routinely. We play the onerous state-mandated documentation game as professional sheeple in an increasingly complex and corrupt healthcare system that is growing like a plague on humanity. We genuflect to our insurance and government overseers who destroy our professional freedom and compromise our ethics. We continue to play their game on their turf instead of creating our own independent family therapy culture. We sold our souls to the medical model devil long ago and we are paying the price for that shortsighted decision today.

We are a dead organization. I looked at the latest AAMFT Annual Conference brochure and did not see one keynote presentation or workshop that had me saying, Wow, I would love to attend that one. We could have developed the same bland conference ten years ago. To add to that, the topics are full of the usual political correctness and risk avoidance that also makes up our Family Therapy Magazine. I tend to check the headlines of that periodical and quickly toss it in the trash. Where are the cutting-edge seminars? Where are the futuristic topics? Where is the anti-establishment thinking that made us who we are? I am sure these folks are fine presenters and talented writers but our culture is stale.

We have compromised our professional ethics in order to be on the team. The recent revelations about NSA domestic surveillance have profound implications for family therapists and all mental health professionals. The privacy of our clients is at risk. We apparently accept the use of centralized mental health databases that state authorities can use to deny freedoms to our clients.

In our desire to reduce gun crimes and gain favor with friendly politicians, we are willing to rat out our clients that own guns to state mental health officials, thus expanding the Tarasoff law far beyond where it should go. Electronic health records are now easily accessible by government-sponsored hackers who get anything they want with just a few mouse clicks. Does anyone doubt that hospitals and larger insurers are giving access to medical records to government officials either voluntarily or involuntarily, who in turn are using the information gained against our clients? Yet, there is virtually no discussion about this at AAMFT.

I believe we are contributing to a scary Orwellian nightmare that will only get worse under Obamacare and the logical extension, national healthcare. Yet, I see no discussion of these issues at the organization level. This should be an opportunity for family therapists to take a stand to protect out clients’ privacy rights, even if it means we lose favor with our third party overseers. We are instead participating in the expansion of the intrusive state. I am certain that our family therapy pioneers like Carl Whitaker and Murray Bowen would be speaking out boldly against this abuse of power. Today, we go along to get along in the bureaucratic quagmire we call our professional home.

In the twenty-five years that I have been practicing family therapy, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in the unmarried parent rate that has had devastating effects on families and particularly children. In the two decades before my launch as a family therapist, we had already seen a devastating increase in the rate of divorce and fatherlessness that we therapists may have actually facilitated because of the imposition of our politics on psychotherapy. Our individualist psychotherapy culture harmed families and communities. We had a positive impact on these last two indicators in the 90’s and 00’s, no thanks to our professional family therapy establishment that was largely neutral on these issues, but the trends are reversing again because the political winds have changed. Why are we unwilling to take a stand for two-parent heterosexual married families when the research is overwhelming that family structure is positively correlated with family and community health? We are allowing politics to influence our practices and our communities are suffering as a result.

We are bifurcating into two social classes – one educated, married, and responsible – the other falling behind academically, never married, and increasingly irresponsible.  Political correctness, or maybe just blind adherence to 1960’s Progressive ideology, kept us from using our professional knowledge to help build a better family culture and strengthen the middle class, and it is getting in the way again today. We continue to be fixated on race and gender politics, the politics of victimization, at the expense of deeper structural issues that could really have an impact on our communities. How can we family therapists address these deeper structural issues to help families and communities?

We seem to be stuck in the outdated and tiresome Liberal/Secular vs. Conservative/Religious divide. A burgeoning liberty revolution transcends this divide and has some historical connections to powerful anti-establishment psychotherapy traditions of the past that eschewed the repressive mental health practices of the time that status quo forces considered optimal. Our professional association does not seem to understand that there is a third way. We could be part of the movement to fight medication and documentation abuses as our forefathers fought physical restraints in institutions and the pathologizing practices of individually oriented practitioners. We could advocate for patient self-determination instead of coercion. We could fight against political correctness that puts people in ideological boxes and silences dissent.

What makes family therapy today an avocation rather than a job? I will be damned if I know. It has become a self-perpetuating guild for risk-avoidant people that want to wear a nice shirt or blouse to work and make a decent living. We now have great university programs and a far-reaching institutional presence across all states and many countries, but what makes us exceptional? How are we having an impact on the world? I do not see much to convince me that we are any different from mercenary lawyers or accountants or any other professionals that offer a service to clients in exchange for payment. That seems to be all our association concerns itself with as well. We have no soul.

In conclusion, I do not know what I will do in my professional future but as of now, I do not want to affiliate with AAMFT. I will cease referring to myself as a marriage and family therapist. I prefer the terms guide, mentor, or coach as those terms have connotations that come closer to what we used to be about and what I still want to be. I want to help people solve problems, lead better lives, and become better people.

We are living in consequential times and I want to apply my limited energies where I believe I can have the most impact. AAMFT has become a casual friend that does not provide me with an opportunity for deep connection and mutual growth.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Sincerely,

Kevin J, Kervick, MS, Nashua, NH

AAMFT Approved Supervisor

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Justin Jameson on September 4, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Sounds like you would be a perfect “coach” for all the tea bagging nut jobs in your area. Well done, you have finally found your niche.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark on September 4, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Actually Justin, if you read current research on the placebo effect and other analyses of behavioral change effects, and how little they are being applied in the field of using anti depressants, and if you have ever worked with “schizophrenic” adolescents and adults, and seen how little knowledge psychiatry has of working in real ways with these kids – you would know that a lot of what Kevin says is spot on. Yes his style is not politically correct, but please don’t miss the importance of the message. We are at a crisis in our society, and mental health systems are fragmented and mostly not operating in the interests of the client, but rather to satisfy other interests. That’s just not right, and Kevin is brave for putting this out so publicly. He is improving the potential future for all if us, in my opinion.
      For evil to flourish, it only requires that “good” people say nothing. The same is true of all deep problems, few people are brave enough to speak the truth and tell the message.

      Reply

      • Posted by Justin Jameson on September 4, 2013 at 9:45 am

        As a therapist, ” style” actually counts for a lot. I actually do agree with some of his points, but the message is badly warped by his unfortunate case of ODS. That’s Obama Derangement Syndrome for those of you playing at home. His negative worldview, lack of solution focused thinking, being problem-focused and playing the blame game seem to be undesirable traits in any therapist and therefore the field is most certainly better off without him, in my opinion. I stand by my words and wish him well in his new chosen niche. He’ll be happier there.

      • Posted by Mark on September 4, 2013 at 11:37 am

        So he has good things to say but he made a couple comments critical of Obama, which means he is obviously a nut job. That’s basically what you are saying, correct? Very open-minded of you.

  2. Posted by Mark on September 4, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Kevin,
    Thank you for this. So many complex issues. I deeply appreciate your contribution here. I think the size, complexity and enormity of these problems makes them difficult to talk about, almost too overwhelming. Yet it is a discussion that must be had. I personally believe that the skyrocketing childhood obesity and psychological and social breakdown is largely due to the fact that so many adults are simply not willing to do what is right. But having been raised into these systems, I also think many people simply don’t realize there could be alternatives, or don’t know how to bhope you can be a part of supporting new and more appropriate ways for us to transform society into a vital joyful body that nurtures its children and adolescents. Corporations are part of the problem, but they can (and must)also be part of the solution. As are the Boards which given these organizations. How can we change what needs to be changed, on that level? Is it even possible? Please help mental health in the world by proposing solutions, we need your input!

    Reply

    • Thanks Mark. I am part of a growing movement that is attempting to do what you request. I hope to get other mental health professionals on board, but as you intimate, the group-think is thick inside our system and there is much prejudice against anyone that challenges assumptions (see Justin’s Teabagger slur). Too much cash is on the line.

      Reply

  3. Great letter and yes Obamacare has already destroyed many of us, deprived us of insurance and worse to come. Good that Kevin has the courage to say what we all know. This does not make him a ‘tea bagger’ or anything else. It’s his opinion, which is similar to those of us who have worked in human services for years.

    PS – I would never want to pay a counselor to ‘counsel’ me who refers to conservatives as ‘tea baggers’. It is condescending and derogatory and I would question his ability. I hope you’re not a professional in the biz Justin, because you acted very unprofessional with your comment.

    Reply

  4. Oh and the blame game… isn’t that what he’s complaining about in the first place? Funny you should mention that.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Bill Hackbarth on September 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Justin Jameson you are nothing more than an idealogical bigot. The fact that you are also a therapist is frightening. You are an affront to your profession. Kevin thanks for showing some backbone and protecting your patients.

    Reply

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