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5 Questions with Claudia Grauf-Grounds

Posted By Barry Jacobs, Tuesday, June 19, 2012

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Barry J. Jacobs: I had the privilege recently of conducting a phone interview with Claudia Grauf-Grounds, Ph.D., a long-time acquaintance from the CFHA and Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) conferences. For two decades, she has been an exemplar of the collaborative care champion who has gracefully straddled the family therapy and family medicine worlds, teaching trainees from each about the culture of the other. In workshops and at meetings, I have always been impressed by Claudia’s equanimity and good cheer. Perhaps this reflects her self-assurance about her missions as an educator and clinician, as well as her deep and abiding spirituality.

1: What experiences in your professional or personal life were most influential in your development as a medical family therapist?

In terms of my professional development, I was teaching family therapy at the University of San Diego in the early-‘90s when JoEllen Patterson asked me to apply for a part-time behavioral faculty position at Sharp, a new community-based, family medicine program that was being started by family medicine leader Joe Scherger. After I was hired, along with psychiatrist Steve Groban, we had to figure out what to do. We started going to the STFM Family in Family Medicine conferences, held each year for many years at Amelia Island, Florida, where I met the gang—Jeri Hepworth, Tom Campbell, Susan McDaniel, Dave Seaburn, Alan Lorenz. All of these were very competent professionals and wonderful people who wanted to address families and suffering but could also talk in the same paragraph about their own families. They were all mentoring me. I met Tina Schermer Sellers at Amelia Island at the same time I was applying for my current position at Seattle Pacific University. I shared her vision to work with families and illness and we hit it off. Tina had worked for years as a family therapist in oncology and she had had the idea independent of me to start a certificate program in MedFT at SPU. In 2001, we started a MedFT certificate program for our masters and post-masters family therapy programs.

The personal experience that has informed my career was that my son was born with transposition of the greater heart vessels that meant there were no connections between his lungs, heart and body. He was suffocating at birth. During his two open heart operations and subsequent hospitalization, my husband and I basically lived at the Children’s Hospital in San Diego. We coped not only because of the amazing hospital professionals who supported us but also because of our faith community at that time. That experience has led me to think a lot about internal and external resources of healing. That’s how I train my students and work with my clients—evaluating the kinds of internal and external resources that clients use. My son, by the way, is now 23 and is doing great. His internist at University of Washington wrote about him in an academic journal because he is the only person with that congenital cardiac condition who later went on to compete in Division II track.


2: What do you consider your most important contribution to the MedFT field?

In my role as department chair, I’ve been able to facilitate Tina’s dream to start a university-based MedFT certificate—one that isn’t affiliated with one hospital or residency program. Instead, we put students in multiple healthcare settings where they get an overall picture of how families can be involved in medical care. But we also ask each student to focus during training on one illness—fibromyalgia, cancer, diabetes, etc.

I’ve also worked to expand George Engels’ biopsychosocial model to one that is biopsychosocial-spiritual by presenting consistently at CFHA and STFM conferences on spirituality and by collaborating with other trainers on this topic and by introducing a core course on Spirituality & Health in our MedFT course curriculum.


3: What do you think MedFT, as a field/orientation, needs in order to move into mainstream healthcare?

I think there are situations now that prompt people to think about their own families and illness situations—e.g., dealing with aging parents, wounded warriors in military families. People understand intuitively that it’s important for healthcare to be family-based. But we’re still using a fee-for-service, individually oriented reimbursement model. Families want to be engaged in healthcare but realize that they will have to pay for it out of pocket. Our field must advocate for a more family-based reimbursement system.


4: What do you think our training models lack that puts us behind some other fields?

I like the hubs of MedFT training that I’m seeing in different contexts. The difference is that we’re still an interdisciplinary group and interdisciplinary groups have difficult getting traction politically. Things like writing blogs will help us because that’s where real people live.


5: Ideally, where would you like to see MedFT in the next 10 years?

NAMI is an integrated whole of families and healthcare professionals devoted to relieving the suffering of families dealing with psychiatric illnesses. I’d love for MedFT to become a kind of professional NAMI—a go-to field that demonstrates the value of working with families with all illnesses and advocates for those families.


Claudia Grauf-Grounds

Claudia Grauf-Grounds, Ph.D. is Chair and Professor of the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy in the School of Psychology of Seattle Pacific University. For many years, she also supervised the behavioral science training of family medicine residents at the University of Washington. She is the co-author of Essential Skills in Family Therapy: From the First Interview to Termination (Second Edition) (Guilford, 2009) and has also published extensively on MedFT training, couples treatment, anticipatory loss and spirituality in Families, Systems & Health and other journals. She and her husband, a pastor, have three adult children (ages 23-30) and an 18-year-old dog named Coffee Grounds.



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