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Prof receives grant for research on student perceptions of marriage and family therapy education

Written by: Cynthia Anaya
Dr. Sofia Georgiadou and Dr. Ashley Hicks received a grant for research on MFT education.

Within the academic community at University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL), faculty members like Dr. Sofia Georgiadou are at the forefront of research that advances their fields and enhances student learning and success. Georgiadou, an assistant professor of family therapy, conducted a survey study aimed at improving the educational journey of students in U.S.-based couple/marriage and family therapy (C/MFT) master’s programs. 

Her project, titled “Advancing Marriage and Family Therapy Education: A Mixed Methods Study of Students' and Graduates' Perceptions of MFT Training,” leverages a comprehensive approach to uncover how current teaching methods align with real-world need and competencies of future therapists. Her research and findings led to the opportunity for more active learning strategies to be implemented in higher education instruction, and over $18,000 in grants and

“Over the years of teaching in my field, I have seen students become overwhelmed when they complete their ‘theory-based’ courses during the first year of their master's program and when they begin their practicum/internship, where they see actual clients,” she said. “They often report feeling unprepared and not at the level of competence where they would feel at least somewhat confident in their ability to serve clients.”

“This study aimed to give a voice to students by asking them to assess how well their graduate training helped them build competency in MFT common factors and MFT core competencies."

She added that in recent years, she has noticed that family therapy education in the U.S. has shifted towards more outcome-based training. This training focuses on a series of competencies and common factors across different family therapy models. However, she said there needs to be more broad data to determine if current curricula and teaching methods can effectively prepare students to help their clients during various stages of their training. This realization led to employing this study.

“This mixed-methods survey study aimed to give a voice to the students of U.S. C/MFT master’s programs by asking them to assess how well their graduate training helped them build competency in MFT common factors and MFT core competencies,” said Georgiadou.

For the project, she and Dr. Ashley Hicks from The Ohio State University collected data about students’ perceptions of teaching and assessment methods and how these methods impacted their ability to apply common factors and core competency skills in their therapy practice with clients. Three hundred graduate students in family therapy programs from all over the country participated in the study.

Approximately 1/3 of the sample felt their program prepared them substantially well across all competency domains,” she said. “We also discovered that student participants valued experiential learning and practicing skills in mock sessions and roleplay. They felt unprepared in interactions with multiple family members and more complex family dynamics in the therapy room.”

“We hope educators will use these results to incorporate more active learning strategies in their teaching and more opportunities for students to bridge learning gaps ."

Dr. Sofia Georgiadou received grants for research on MFT education.

She added that students in the study expressed the need for more training in areas like emergency and crisis interventions, as well as safety issues. Eighteen percent of students reported feeling anxiety during their first term of practicum, but approximately 45% said their program prepared them to manage anxiety about seeing clients. The study also revealed that students felt confident applying approaches based on cognitive behavior therapy, narrative therapy, mindfulness techniques, as well as trauma-informed and solution-focused approaches.

Drs. Georgiadou and Hicks presented their results at the Coalition of Associations for Systemic Therapists' (COAST) virtual conference last November and plan to also present them at the International Family Therapy Association (IFTA) Conference in Toyama, Japan, in April 2024. 

“We are hoping that our fellow educator colleagues will use these results to incorporate more active learning strategies in their teaching and more opportunities for students to bridge the learning gaps our participants identified,” she said.

At UH-Clear Lake, Georgiadou has revised her courses to fill these learning gaps. Her instruction now focuses more on evidence-informed treatment approaches and incorporates role plays with multiple clients in the classroom.

For their study, she and Hicks, received a $12,751 faculty research grant from the Bluenotes Explorance. This allowed them to present their findings at the Bluenotes Global conference in the summer of 2023. UHCL also awarded Georgiadou $6,000 in faculty research support funds.

To learn more about Georgiadou, visit her faculty bio webpage. More information about UHCL’s Family Therapy program can be found at www.uhcl.edu/human-sciences-humanities/departments/clinical-health-applied-sciences/family-therapy/.