Dr. Kristina Brown and Renae Courtney to present at the AAMFT Conference

A Forest faculty member and student have been chosen to present at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Annual Conference in Memphis, Tennessee on October 30 - November 2. Dr. Kristina Brown, PhD, LMFT, Assistant Professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, will be presenting a three hour seminar on "Chronic Illness and the Effect on a Couple’s Intimate Relationship". Renae Courtney will be presenting her poster, "Recruit, Engage, and Retain Participants".

The below information is taken directly from the abstracts by Dr. Kristina Brown and Renae Courtney.

"Chronic Illness and the Effect on a Couple’s Intimate Relationship"
 by Kristina S. Brown, PhD, LMFT

Abstract Summary:
This workshop will provide knowledge about the impact of a chronic illness, endometriosis, on a couple’s intimate relationship and the ways in which the well partner is impacted. Therapeutic strategies and coping skills to be used with couples with a chronic illness and who are struggling with their intimate relationship will be provided.

According to family systems theory, when one member of the system changes this change will impact the system as a whole. This is true for chronic illness. The onset, diagnosis, and ongoing symptoms of a chronic illness change the couple relationship. The illness can infiltrate every aspect of the couple’s life including their intimate relationship. Much attention is usually given by the medical and mental health professionals to the ill partner. Research has found that the coping skills of the well partner impact not only the well partner and the couple relationship, but it also impacts the course of the illness. This workshop will provide knowledge about the impact of chronic illness using endometriosis as the example. Participants will learn how endometriosis changes the way a couple intimately connects both emotionally and physically. Women with endometriosis experience painful intercourse as a symptom of the disease. Participants will understand and learn about the experiences of couples who struggled with anticipatory fear in response to painful intercourse. The anticipatory fear cycle describes the holding patterns that these couples can get stuck in their sexual relationship as a result of anxiety, guilt, and fear of painful intercourse. This information can be applied to a wide range of experiences of painful intercourse due to both biological and psychological origin. The ways in which the well partner is uniquely impacted by endometriosis will also be detailed. Though the research done by the presenter is on endometriosis, the knowledge and skills provided by this workshop will be transferable to couples experiencing a range of other chronic illnesses. The presenter will share therapeutic strategies including collaboration with the medical profession, positive techniques for including the well partner in the illness, and coping skills for couples.

Learning Objectives:
1. Participants will describe the lived experience of chronic illness on the couple relationship.
2. Participants will identify the ways in which a chronic illness can change the couple’s intimate relationship.
3. Participants will understand the unique experience of well partners.
4. Participants will hear recorded interviews with couples as they discuss the impact that chronic illness has had on their intimate relationship and the impact it has had on the well partner.
5. Participants will identify strategies to use when working with couples with chronic illness.
6. Participants will learn and practice different strategies to use with couples struggling with the impact of chronic illness on their relationship.

"Recruit, Engage, and Retain Participants"
by Renae M. Courtney, MA

The School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute received funding from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote healthy relationships and marriage. Attracting and retaining couples is of primary importance to the success of the grant. The goal of this project is a retrospective look at what motivates couples to attend and remain in a relationship enhancement course.

In 2006, The School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute received a five-year, $5-million dollar grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to provide healthy marriage/healthy relationship education to 29 counties in Springfield, Missouri. The grant targets 1) high school students, 2) engaged couples, couples in a serious dating relationship, or persons interested in marriage, 3) unwed expectant mothers and fathers, 4) married couples, and 5) couples at risk for divorce. The evaluation was conducted with culturally relevant participants using a pilot study designed with a focus on military spouses. The curriculum is based on the Prepare Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). Data were collected at the end of first class to identify and promote successful marketing strategies. Participants included 42 couples who were married, engaged, or in serious dating relationships. Participants were mostly Caucasian and ranged in age from 18 to 65. A free meal was provided and there was no cost for attending the four week, two hour sessions. Surveys were anonymous and requested only gender as a demographic variable. Participants were asked to indicate why they came to the course. Categories included 1) need relationship help, 2) to help the troops, 3) free food, 4) for fun, 5) spouse made me, and 6) it’s a guy thing. Following this section, participants were asked to offer other reasons that motivated them to attend the sessions. Finally, participants were asked to indicate why they planned to continue. Categories included 1) I had a good time, 2) learned something new, 3) committed to all four weeks, and 4) there are people like me here. Participation was voluntary. Overall, 94% of the couples reported attending to seek help in their relationship, 74% planned to commit to all four weeks because they had a good time.

Learning Objectives:
1. Participants will learn strategies likely to engage, recruit, and retain participants in preventative relationship education classes.
2. Participants will learn possible gender distinctions motivating participants to attend and remain in relationship education classes.
3. Participants will learn a unique cultural approach to psychoeducational/relationship education classes in southwest Missouri.