ASU program inspires students to positively impact couples and families in the community

February 20, 2019

A specialized program at ASU has trained nearly 200 students who have entered the workforce in careers that have a positive and profound impact on society.

Now in its 12th year, the master’s degree in advanced studies in marriage and family therapy (MAS-MFT) program has produced student interns responsible for more than 56,220 hours of individual, couple and family therapy to the local community. Picture of students around a table discussing a class topic Marriage and family therapy students exchange ideas during a rich classroom discussion.

Following the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics' mission to focus on “the well-being of children, youth, families and their communities across the lifespan”, Rick Fabes, founding director of the school, conceived of an idea for an accelerated, applied program to provide expert training to those passionate about serving others.

This led to the development of the MAS-MFT program by co-directors Mary Doyle and Karissa Greving Mehall (both Arizona-licensed marriage and family therapists). In 2007, the MAS-MFT program was piloted with 14 students before being granted approval by the Arizona Board of Regents in 2008. Since then, 196 students have graduated from the program, with another 23 on track to graduate next fall.

For those wishing to work as clinicians within the marriage and family therapy discipline, one unique program feature is its accelerated, applied design. A traditionally-paced program would take two to three years for a student to complete. ASU’s MAS-MFT course can be completed in just 15 months, allowing students to begin supervised employment immediately upon completion.

Preparing graduates for immediate career opportunities has paid great dividends for not only the students, but for local practitioners as well.

“I have had the pleasure of working with and supervising countless ASU-MFT graduates over the years,” said Melissa A. Baker, president of the Arizona Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. 

“Today, there are strong graduates from the ASU-MFT program in positions of direct client care, supervision, management and administrative leadership at many behavioral health agencies and private practices around the state, from the Valley to Tucson to the White Mountains,” said Baker.

The applied emphasis also means that students are able to focus their education and training on the skills they will need as professional clinicians working in the behavioral health field instead of having to take classes devoted to research training or to complete a master’s thesis. 

This applied emphasis is one reason why Holli Gonzalez, parenting skills program director at Human Resource Training Inc., has partnered with the ASU-MFT internship program for the past 12 years.

“The interns come to our program well-informed about not only tried-and-true ways to engage clients, but also aware of the newest ideas in therapy," said Gonzalez. "At one point, interns helped inform the writing of our 2010 RFP because they knew about many evidenced-based therapies that could be used with our client population. 

“We have worked with interns from other programs, but one area that stands out about the ASU-MFT program is the individual attention each intern has received from Mary and Karissa."

Developers took great care and preparation to ensure the program met the highest standards. The program’s curriculum has been granted official approval (granted in five-year increments) by the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, Arizona’s licensing board. Students can be confident that their graduate curriculum will be accepted by the board when they apply for licensure.

Another unique feature about the program is its cohort-based format. Each group of students attends all classes together in the same sequence. They share a distinctive experience together as students, and many forge professional relationships after graduation. Collaboration and mutual support, rather than competition, is encouraged for all students. 

What program graduates say

“We received rigorous training and therapeutic models, real-world experience through a clinical internship and support from accomplished and knowledgeable professors. While many graduate programs within this field focus on outdated text, this program included a balance of historical therapeutic approach as well as modern research studies and realistic application to practice.”
— Haley Edris, clinician, Behavioral Health at Arizona’s Children Association and its family of agencies

“I cannot say enough good things about how my experience in the program has shaped my perspective, practice and leadership. It gave me access to a deeper level of understanding about people and what drives them, especially working in groups, and how to motivate them towards a common goal. The program training played a large part in my advancement to the CEO role, and I am forever thankful for all that I learned.” 
— April Rhodes, chief executive officer, Spectrum Healthcare Group 

“The program helped to solidify my career in behavioral health. I had previously worked in the field but in a different capacity. However, this degree enabled me to move into different positions and has given me the possibility to work in private practice. At the time of graduation, I knew exactly the steps to be taken to pursue licensure in the state, while many colleagues I spoke to struggled to navigate the process and keep track of their requirements.” 
— Jessica Reynoso, 2012-13 cohort

“I had the pleasure of entering the program in 2007 as a member of the first cohort. Since graduation I have served on the board of the Arizona Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Arizona Marriage and Family Therapy Credentialing Committee. I’ve also had the privilege to be appointed to the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, most recently serving as chairperson, and I have been able to teach undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. This program helped open all of those doors for me.” 
— Patricia Dobratz, director of operations and clinical services, Arizona Marriage & Family Therapy Clinic

The average rate of employment for program graduates within the first year is over 80 percent, and the rate of passing the national licensing exam is approximately 90 percent on the first attempt. The cohort is small and select — only 22-24 students are accepted each fall. 

For more information, please visit the MAS-MFT program webpage, which includes a comprehensive FAQ section and the student handbook.

Prospective students are invited to attend one of two informational sessions on the Tempe campus this fall. Meet the program’s co-directors, Mehall and Doyle, and learn more about the program. No RSVP necessary. The informational session dates, times and locations will be posted on the program’s webpage this summer

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


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Hawaii faces cultural roadblocks to combatting sex trafficking

February 20, 2019

Pair of studies demonstrates that the state has created an environment where sex trafficking thrives with little interference

Known for its palm trees, beautiful beaches and nearly perfect year-round weather, Hawaii is rightfully called paradise.

But underneath that idyllic image is something darker: sex trafficking. According to one Arizona State University researcher, pretty much anything goes in the land of aloha.

Her two recent studies, “Sex Trafficking in Hawaii: Exploring Online Buyers” and “Sex Trafficking in Hawaii: The Stories of Survivors,” were funded by the Kaimas Foundation. The findings lay out the case that Hawaii does not have an organized effort to combat sex buying, fosters a culture of turning a blind eye and demonstrates a crisis of priorities in the general lack of response by law enforcement. 

“It is genuinely troubling that more people are penalized for homelessness and jaywalking in Honolulu than for buying sex,” said Roe-Sepowitz, who worked with the Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women to explore the issue. 

ASU Now spoke to Roe-Sepowitz about her studies and the world of sexual exploitation. 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for clarity.

Question: Why do you think Hawaii is lacking in combatting sex trafficking? 

Answer: There are a number of factors that have slowed the progress of building awareness and providing services for victims of sex trafficking in Hawaii. These include widespread disinterest, collusion or corruption within law enforcement who are the front line of access to victims, a pro-sex work community that encourages the idea that sex trafficking in Hawaii is a myth, a culture of misogyny and the cultural silencing of victims of all types of abuse.   

Multilayered issues such as the easy availability of drugs, high rates of homelessness and residents being limited in their movement to escape trafficking situations due to Hawaii being an island add to the complexity of providing services to sex trafficking victims.

In Hawaii, we have been told this work is much needed, and we have also been told that our research isn’t going to change anything. We hope that this research will help to infuse new information to support the good work that has begun and help to design future anti-sex trafficking activities.  

Some services specific to sex-trafficked children are being provided, and new programs are being developed on some islands including crisis shelters, mentoring programs, residential sites and family therapy, but there continues to be a lack of resources for adult victims.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz

Associate Professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz is the director of the ASU Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Q: Your study shows that 1 in 11 men in Hawaii search online to pay for sex. Is this higher or lower than the average state?

A: This was a surprise. We were under the assumption — (as is) common lore in Hawaii — that sex buyers were mostly outsiders. Nearly three-quarters of the sex buyers responding to our decoy sex advertisements called from the 808 Hawaii area code. On average, the volume of unique sex buyers in Hawaii was nine times higher than an average call volume for a similar decoy advertisement in Phoenix, Arizona (407 unique callers compared to 45 unique callers). This indicates that not only is the online sex-buyer population in Hawaii large, but the majority of the customers are locals. In our most recent study exploring the experiences of sex trafficking victims, sex buyers were described as visitors, military and locals. They were politicians, law enforcement, doctors, judges, businessmen and travelers. Sex buyers self-identified in the sex-buyer study as surfers, locals, tourists and military personnel.  

The estimate of sex buyers in Arizona in an identical study that we conducted was 1 in 20 men in Arizona is searching online to buy sex. 

A well-known and well-researched element of deterring sex trafficking in a community is to address the demand for prostitution (the primary component of sex trafficking). The lack of attention by law enforcement in Hawaii has created a situation where people can be bought and sold online with no detection and no deterrence. That is a formula for disaster for sex trafficking victims as human traffickers can recruit and victimize them online without any interference.  

Q: Sex buying is illegal under Hawaii law. What do you think is the attitude of Hawaii law enforcement toward sex trafficking? What could they change?

A: Within the context of culture and social pressure by pro-prostitution groups, there has been a general lack of response by law enforcement and the state. This demonstrates a crisis of priorities and a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue. That there are more citations for being homeless (sit-lie violations) and jaywalking in Honolulu than for buying sex is troubling, and our study definitely highlighted that finding online sex buyers was not difficult.  

Stopping sex buyers from buying is the greatest method to change the sex market. To do this, Hawaii must say that buying and selling another for sex is unacceptable, is based on the privilege of dominance and power and is an act of violence. If there was a significant drop in sex buyers, sex traffickers would be deterred from recruiting victims. 

Q: Is sex buying part of Hawaii's culture?

A: Sex buying opportunities can be found on almost every island in Hawaii in some form. There are streets of massage parlors and hostess bars on Maui and Oahu; there are game rooms and drug houses in other towns and cities. These are known fronts for prostitution, and many of the sex trafficking victims I interviewed identified those as places they were sold. 

Online, sex buying is available everywhere in Hawaii.   

Expectations for business visitors in Hawaii continue to include the provision of "entertainment," including prostitutes or being taken to sex-selling establishments by their hosts.  

The lack of a strategy to address sex buying is not unusual to Hawaii — many states and large cities struggle with how to balance what is often seen as a low-level crime with higher levels of more violent crime. 

Q: Your findings show that there’s cultural pressure to remain silent on sex abuse. 

A: I was told by a number of the sex trafficking victims that I interviewed in Hawaii, if they told anyone what was happening, it would bring bad things to their family.  

This included all types of abuse. The tacit acceptance about men in the community buying sex and the silence within families are strong factors that perpetuate the sex trafficking victimization of children and adults in Hawaii.  

Q: What is being done to address sex buyer demand?

A: Sex buyers create the sex trade business: Without their demand, there would be no business.  

In Hawaii, there is limited action to deter sex buying with few arrests. In other cities, like Phoenix and Cincinnati, a clear message has been sent that buying sex is unacceptable and the punishments are significant. In Phoenix, if you are a city employee and are caught buying sex you will be fired, along with your car being impounded for 30 days and a $1,000 fine. In Cincinnati, the sex buyer’s photo is posted on a billboard.  

Around the U.S. there are dynamic interventions being used that have been found to have significantly disrupted the sex buyer market. Seattle arrested and prosecuted a group of sex buyers who used a private chat board to rank and promote prostituted persons around the country. Many of them worked for tech companies and had families.  

Other techniques being used include using bots to lure and respond to sex buyers with deterrent messages. Other states are using marketing campaigns like “Arizona isn’t buying it” to explain the belief that buying sex is a crime.  

Somehow we have to find a way to get people to care about the victims of sex trafficking. The first place to start, I believe, is to change the hearts and minds of men who believe that buying sex from another person isn’t harmful to that victim. 

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU News