As we approach the end of the year, I am happy to report that the Academy is doing well. We have a new Board member and one who has moved to a new position. In addition, we have new brochures that describe the Academy as well as the benefits of the diplomate in couple and family psychology, and we have added quite a few new members to diplomate status. Hopefully all of you have renewed your fellowship status in the Academy for the 2014 – 2015 year. Our infrastructure is stable as is our financial situation, and our newsletter is continuing to receive praise from those in the field.
As we move forward, our plans include expanding our training opportunities, our mentoring program, encouraging early career psychologists to become more active and involved, and to continue to enhance the working relationship among the American Board of Couple & Family psychology, the Division of Family psychology, and our Academy. We hope to have a larger presence at the APA convention in Toronto next year, conduct or be involved with more trainings, and to expand our networking. There are still several areas of concern that hopefully will be addressed in the field of couple and family psychology, including the role and expertise required to do family evaluations for courts such as in child custody cases, ethical issues of working with families without having such expertise, and the way family issues and therapy are addressed in DSM 5 and by insurance companies.
One issue that has erupted lately involves guidelines published over 3 years ago by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) regarding what was termed “court involved therapy.” Evidently these guidelines have not been well known outside AFCC, but have recently come to the attention of other forensic and family psychologists, attorneys, and other mental health professionals. The guidelines can be found at the AFCC website, and I encourage all to read them. They were also published in the Family Law Quarterly, the AFCC journal, over 3 years ago. The guidelines set out procedures for therapists to follow if they have a client who is involved with a court, or if the therapist is court appointed to treat a client in a court case. The controversy revolves around ethics and appropriate roles and responsibilities of therapists who happen to have a client who in involved with a court, and whether the therapist should be trained and follow forensic guidelines rather than therapeutic ones.
The controversy has reached us at the AACFP because our Academy past president co-authored a commentary that is being published this month in the Journal of Child Custody (of which I am the Editor), and members of AFCC have objected to the portrayal of the guidelines and the process by which they were created. This has become an issue to pay attention to in part because different Diplomates in our Academy are on both sides of this debate, with some involved in the creation of the Guidelines and others in disputing their appropriateness or necessity. This can involve ethical issues as well in that there appears to be a serious debate about what training therapists should have who treat a client involved in a family court case, what role they should play, what they could testify about regarding their observations and treatment, and what type of opinions they may report to a court. A further issue is whether family court judges should be encouraged to only appoint AFCC or other therapists who follow these guidelines rather than permit litigants to choose their own therapists with different theoretical backgrounds. Since the guidelines were evidently established for AFCC members, one would think that they would not be important for non-AFCC members or to mental health professionals in general. However, it appears that some judges, attorneys, and others have taken the position that these guidelines may be applicable to all those who treat or evaluate clients when or if a court gets involved in a case. This raises legal questions and issues as well.
I expect this debate will continue to play out in the coming months for family psychologists who do work with clients, adults and children, who were or may become involved in a court case, especially if they are asked to testify in the case about their treatment and opinions. I expect the Journal of Child Custody will publish additional articles and comments about the different perspectives on these guidelines in the coming months, as may be other journals and newsletters. If you work with such situations, you may want to educate yourself about these AFCC Guidelines and the controversy about them.
Until next time, Happy Holidays and New Year!!
Bob Geffner, Ph.D., ABPP, ABN, President