Medicine Launches Post-Master’s Certificate Programs


MACON – In an effort to meet local communities’ needs in a newly-merging field, Mercer University’s School of Medicine recently announced post-master’s certificate programs in Medical Family Therapy and Pediatric Family Therapy. These certificate programs, each of which can be completed in one year and offer courses primarily in late afternoon and evening, are designed to prepare clinicians to practice in specialty areas of family therapy.

“Today, there is an expectation that family therapists should be able to collaborate with other professionals across school systems, medical systems and social services systems,” says Matthew Orr, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science. “This certificate program prepares students not only to collaborate with these other systems, but also trains them to be competent mental health care providers within those systems.”

According to Orr, the Medical Family Therapy program is focused on learning to help individuals and their families adjust to issues of death and dying and manage life with chronic illness. It addresses the psychosocial aspects of health care for individuals, couples and families living with acute and chronic medical problems. Thanks to the Georgia Cancer Coalition, which has awarded financial support for the start-up of this program, special attention will be paid to central Georgia families facing life with cancer.

Orr says that the certificate program is not just focused on assisting families, but that it also prepares clinicians for the hard realities of saying goodbye to their patients.

“There is a psychosocial aspect to healthcare, and it is often healthcare professionals who need to adjust to end-of-life issues of their patients,” he says.

The Pediatric Family Therapy certificate provides specialized training in the treatment of child and adolescent mental and physical illnesses. This program extends the training of clinicians working with families with children and/or adolescents beyond the medical arena to include providing care in a variety of settings, such as schools, foster care systems, residential treatment facilities and the juvenile justice system.

“There is often much more to the clinical picture than what a child looks like in the context of his or her family. That is, while the family provides the primary context for a child’s growth and development, much of this development is shaped by the child’s experiences in other significant arenas, such as school, and often in alternative settings such as foster care,” Orr explains. “Family therapists, then, must be knowledgeable about the context of these other systems for therapy to be effective in the long term.”

The first certificate students – scheduled to begin in January 2005 – will take courses in medical family therapy methods; chronic illness, death and dying; advanced developmental psychopathology; pediatric family therapy methods; and advanced developmental theory in family therapy, among others. As part of their studies, each student will also be required to complete four to nine hours of a clinical practicum, depending on their previous experience in a medical or pediatric setting.

Five Mercer University School of Medicine professors will teach in the new post-master’s certificate program: Lee D. Bowen, Ph.D.; Rachel Brown, M.D.; Matthew Orr, Ph.D.; Sandra Shoemaker, Ph.D.; and Melton A. Strozier, Ph.D. In addition to the coursework and practicum, students will benefit from community guest lecturers, such as specialists in acute and chronic illnesses and persons living with various illnesses.

Eventually, Orr would like to see six students in each certificate program, and speculates that the most likely applicants are professionals in the mental health field who are seeking increased specialization. Admission into either program requires a minimum of a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, social work, counseling/counseling psychology, divinity with clinical emphasis, or a doctor of medicine degree.

Margaret Jones, a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Macon, is considering enrolling in the medical family therapy certificate program.

“Currently, I help clients cope with the emotional distresses brought on by medical conditions as well as the physical symptoms exacerbated by psychosocial stressors,” says Jones, a 2001 graduate of Mercer’s master’s program in family therapy. “Sometimes therapists forget about the biological aspects of treating patients, and I think this program would help me learn more about how the biomedical and psychosocial aspects of human beings connect.”

For more information about the post-master’s certificate programs, contact Matthew Orr either by e-mail ( or by phone (478-301-4098).

About Mercer University School of Medicine:

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Students entering Mercer University School of Medicine will be graduated from a school that utilizes a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice.