The Student Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (SAMFT) was recognized as one of two organizations for Outstanding Education Program for the 2019 Student Organization Leadership Awards. Co-presidents Debby Vargas, from Miami, Florida, and Francesca Otero-Vargas, from Jupiter, Florida, were recognized for their role in organizing the SAMFT fall conference on multigenerational transmission of trauma, “It’s a Family Affair”.
“I am so grateful to have been presented with this award! We put in so much effort in finding a speaker who was from a diverse background and who works with underserved populations,” said Vargas.
The workshop focused on learning the importance of trauma-informed care for couples and families, cultural humility in therapy, and reviewed research links between relational trauma and perinatal mental health. The audience included students, therapy interns, and licensed professionals. The conference was co-sponsored by the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training for Professionals and Paraprofessionals grant award from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), that Dr. Karen Caldwell, Interim Chair for the Department of Human Psychology and Psychological Counseling, received. This co-sponsorship allowed for SAMFT to invite Janelle Johnson, MA, LMFT to be the keynote speaker.
Marriage and Family Therapy Program Director and SAMFT club advisor, Dr. Kristen Benson said, “In an effort to address the need for diverse representation for students, they carefully considered speakers from diverse backgrounds. They also organized to provide professional continuing education units for licensed mental health practitioners.”
“I am so grateful to have been presented with this award! We put in so much effort in finding a speaker who was from a diverse background and who works with underserved populations,” said Vargas. “Our speaker addressed trauma-informed care for couples and families and focused on perinatal mental health, two topics that are crucial in the work we do and that are not discussed enough. I believe this conference was indicative of the kind of therapists we are training to be and the work that we want to do.”
“Receiving this award is truly an honor and represents the culmination of the months of hard work and the energy we put into conference,” said Otero-Vargas.
“Receiving this award is truly an honor and represents the culmination of the months of hard work and the energy we put into conference,” said Otero-Vargas. “My co-president and I believed that it was important to put on a conference that was tailored to the interests of our peers and club members, that addressed relevant content related to our program of study, and that addressed the need for diverse representation for students. This was our first time putting together a professional conference, which makes this recognition extra special and affirming. It is a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together!”
The Outstanding Educational Program award is conferred to the best and most effective educational program orchestrated by an Appalachian club or organization.
Both Vargas and Otero-Vargas chose Appalachian for their Marriage and Family Therapy program. “I immediately appreciated the inclusivity and mission of this program,” said Otero-Vargas. “It is a program that not only encourages and facilitates personal and professional growth among students; it is also a collaborative learning community that engages in continuous dialogue to enhance students' educational experiences. I felt welcomed and supported from the very beginning!”
“Part of me feels like pursuing a graduate degree is a gift of gratitude for everything my family has done and all the sacrifices they have made over the years,” said Vargas. “It is a continued effort in making my parents' move to the United States worth it. It is also an opportunity to continue the work I am passionate about. I know that without this training I would not be the therapist I am today.”
Vargas completed her bachelor’s degree in family and child sciences and psychology from Florida State University. She hopes to return to the beach and work as a school-based therapist. Eventually, she would like to pursue a Ph.D.
Otero-Vargas completed her bachelor’s degree in family and child sciences and psychology from Florida State University. After graduation, she will return Florida State University to pursue her Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy.
“I think of myself as a forever student in the sense that I am continuously learning and there is always the possibility for growth,” said Otero-Vargas. “Obtaining a graduate degree, specifically a Ph.D., has been a dream of mine since I was little and saw my mom get her Master's degree. Pursuing a Ph.D. will help me meet my goal of becoming one of a few Hispanic women academics in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). I am passionate about continuing my clinical and research advocacy with and for underrepresented groups, and ensuring that MFT scholarship and clinical services are inclusive. Further development of my research and clinical training, and preparation to become an educator and supervisor, will help me to reach my scholarly goals of holistically integrating mindfulness practices in MFT.”