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K-State Family Center helps families while training students

By Michelle Hall


Its roles and services have changed throughout the years. Its location has changed. But the mission of the Kansas State University Family Center -- to provide applied educational training to students while offering counseling, family-related educational programs and consultation services to the Manhattan community and the state of Kansas -- has remained consistent since its founding nearly 30 years ago.

As the marriage and family therapy program at K-State evolved, the students realized they "needed experience to get jobs," said director Stephan Bollman, who served on a committee for the center before being appointed director in 1980. At first, the center was tied in with the Manhattan Ministerial Association and the local Episcopal Church offered the students space in their parish house downtown to run the center.

"The ministerial association gave us $500 to start," Bollman said. The center began as a family resource center -- a place for parent education and counseling. From there, the center moved to the third floor of the UFM building, just off campus. At that time, the center offered services from around campus -- financial counseling, tutoring, and more, Bollman said. As marriage and family therapy blossomed as a major, the center moved to campus, in the summer of 1983.

Serving others, training students

Today, the Family Center is the School of Family Studies and Human Services' on-campus site for therapy and education. Students and faculty at the center work with individuals, couples, families and children on a wide range of issues. They offer family education, foster parent education, parenting classes and mediation services.Family Center

Through a contract, the center provides in-home therapy to families with a risk of instability in four counties around the area. The center has provided pre-marital counseling for Saint Isidore Catholic Student Center at K-State for about five years now. The student and faculty work in the Family Center often takes on themes and evolves into research projects, which, in turn, can be applied to future work. Recent research projects include research on trauma, therapy processes and how families deal with multiple sclerosis.

The Kansas Marital Preservation Project is an example of one of the programs at the center. This project began with two rural Kansas counties, and sought to find the problems in these areas and the barriers to receiving marital help. Students and faculty at the Family Center coordinate with extension agents in these counties to provide premarital and marital enrichment programs. These programs were based on CoupleTalk, a marital enrichment program developed by K-State extension specialist Charlotte Shoup Olsen.

The Family Center is a training clinic where master's and doctoral students under faculty supervision provide therapy services to Manhattan and the surrounding communities. Faculty members occasionally do cotherapy with students. About 18 students in marriage and family therapy help out at the center as part of their curriculum; five faculty members assist them. Although students all do clinical work, many develop a specific area of expertise, said Nancy O'Conner, instructor and clinical director for the Family Center. They can focus that knowledge through research, she said.

"As different training and research projects come up, students are invited to participate, or some develop their own projects," O'Conner said.

playroomClients are referred to the center by state and other agencies, schools or churches, or hear about their services by word of mouth. The Family Center has contracts with some agencies to provide services. For example, they work with young families from Head Start and with youth for Riley County Community Corrections. Marriage and family therapy students also work off-campus with various organizations and services around the state.

Branching out, looking to the future

Recently, the Family Center has branched out its offerings to encompass new training and services. But those who work closely with the center say these services don't reach out too far from what the center is doing now -- they rather complement the center's previous offerings.

One of the new services at the center is financial planning. At this time, financial workshops are offered, and in the spring of 2004, they hope to begin offering peer-based financial counseling for college students. John Grable, associate professor of family studies and human services, said the workshops are offered to any organization anywhere in the state; they have presented to high schools, college organizations and community organizations. Personal financial planning students create and present all of the workshops, Grable said.

"The last thing a college or high school student wants to see at a presentation like this is a college professor," Grable said. "We have great students and they can really make a connection."

The peer-based financial counseling will be like the marriage and family therapy offered at the Family Center, but with a financial twist. Grable said many of the marital and family problems therapists see are financial based, so it seemed a natural fit for the two to work together.

Mediation services is another new offering at the center. Until recently, most of the work in this capacity was done off campus, said Charlie Griffin, a research assistant professor of family studies and human services. He has presented guest lectures on the topic of mediation in various courses across campus and has provided training in mediation across Kansas to state leaders, communities and through Social and Rehabilitation Services. He said professionals in all fields have the need to know how to work through conflict, whether it's in business management, building projects, civil court cases, divorce and custody cases, public decisions about financing, school consolidation and consolidation of many public services, regulatory activities in the state, or just in the day-to-day workplace.conference room

"Managing conflict is what it takes to be a good leader," Griffin said. "Conflict is such a normal thing, it rises every day in working with people." Students also have the need to learn mediation skills or have mediation services available as they work through dorm living, for example, Griffin said.

Griffin said he thought it was time to bring mediation training back to the campus setting. They began looking at broadening the offerings on campus and recently began offering a course on the principles and practices of mediation. He said there is a great professional opportunity there for those in marriage and family therapy to learn mediation skills.

"Having the Family Center is so important," Griffin said. "It's such an obvious combination to expand to offer mediation services. It's important to offer students a learning experience and have a hands-on environment. The ability for us to provide service across the state in training and direct intervention and consulting will be increased through the Family Center. For example, we can now offer divorce and child custody mediation, among the more commonly used forms of mediation, to the local community."

Rising above, setting apart

What sets the Family Center's services apart from similar agencies is a number of things, O'Conner said.

"Some of it is our approach," she said. "We're collaborative. We're interested in the whole family and in their relationships." She noted that as a training center, they are always learning new approaches and applying their research findings.

"There is a special enthusiasm that the students bring to their work," she said.

Mark White, an associate professor and director of the marriage and family therapy program, noted that about one-half of students graduating from the program stay in Kansas after graduation -- what they learn is being applied all over the state. The Family Center uses a sliding pay scale to help families at all economic levels, White said.

"We have a direct effect on people's lives and relationships," he said. "We reach people who may not get help otherwise."


Photos: (Top right) The Family Center.

(Middle left) The playroom at the Family Center.

(Bottom right) A conference room at the Family Center.

Photos by Michelle Hall.

Winter 2003