Reflections on 38 Years as a Marriage and Family Counselor: Part 2
In a three-part series, Candy Marcum looks back on nearly four decades of service to LGBTQ+ communities. What's changed, the progress we've made, and how some things still remain the same.
The Mid Years
As my private psychotherapy practice began to grow, I found myself attending my professional organizations’ state and national conferences. I was then, and am currently, a Clinical Member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The underlying theory of marriage and family therapy is systemic in nature. The theory states that life is about living in systems; families, couples, neighborhoods, schools, cities, organizations, workplace, etc. In systemstheorytherapy, the focus moves away from problems with the individual and instead challenges group members to be aware of how their actions and reactions influence everyone around them.
As a marriage and family counselor, I look for strengths - not weaknesses - in my clients whether the client be an individual, couple or family. I look at the systems which existed for this client and help them, as a system, find ways to solve their problems.
During these mid years in my life and my career, there were several forces motivating me to make decisions in a systemic way. I wanted to bring to my clients the most current and helpful interventions to help them in their lives. I needed to stay up-to-date and trained in the business of psychotherapy. At the same time, the AIDS epidemic had brought to the forefront the focus on being LGBTQ+ in America. (You can read more about that in my first installment.)
Until recently, it was against the law in Texas (and other states) to be gay! As a gay person, you could be denied basic human rights. Rights like having and keeping a job, visiting your significant other in a hospital, having and raising children, and simply having a place to live. I treated clients who were dishonorably discharged from the military because they were LGBTQ+, people who lost custody of their children from a heterosexual marriage, people who lost jobs because it was found out they were gay, and people who were not able to collect insurance or retirement monies from their loved ones due to workplace policies being exclusive to married employees.
Young men would die of AIDS and their families would swoop in and take the house and belongings from the survivor because there was no will (or a poorly written one). The survivor had no legal recourse as there was no marriage at that time for same gender partners. The tragic part of the survivor being left with nothing is the earlier promises from family members that they would be fair to him. Not so. This after the survivor had taken care of his very sick partner, and perhaps even more tragic, the survivor being HIV+ himself.
AAMFT Conferences are about learning new information about counseling. These conferences are also about networking with your peers. In 2001, I attended a Texas AMFT Conference in San Antonio, TX. At the end of the conference, attendees would give feedback on how they experienced the breakout sessions, their thoughts on the keynote speakers, etc. As I was filling out my form, I noted that there were absolutely no sessions on LGBTQ+ issues. I mentioned that someone should be presenting on these issues. I thought to myself: “Maybe I should.” And, I did!
For the next 10 years, I presented on gay issues at both State and National AAMFT Conferences. I was the first to do so. Not surprising, my sessions were filled to standing room only. Therapists wanted to know about how to treat LGBTQ+ people and their families. They had gay clients and needed information on how to help them. Not long after I started presenting, many LGBTQ+ clinicians and professors followed suit.
These mid years were filled with sadness, hope and growth for me both personally and professionally.
HIV+ medical treatments known as “cocktails” were beginning to emerge and HIV+ men and women were living longer and forming relationships. They came to me for counseling around relationships they had with their partners, their parents, their children from heterosexual marriages and their workplace.
LGBTQ+ people were finding the courage to come out and be their authentic selves. It was at this time that the gay movement found its momentum and its voice. Throughout the entirety of my career, there has been nothing more meaningful for me than to be a part of this civil rights movement…for myself, for my clients and for my community.
Stay tuned for part three of this three-part series.