Texas Tech University

Marriage and Family Therapy's Valerie Handley selected as 2017 SFBTA Research Award recipient

by Ellie Ebanks

Valerie Handley MFT Graduate StudentMarriage and Family Therapy doctoral student Valerie Handley has been selected as the 2017 SFBTA Research Award recipient for her research study, Assessing the Effectiveness of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy with Animal-Assisted Therapy: A Microanalysis of Face-to-Face Dialogue. Valerie attended the Solutions Focused Brief Therapy Association Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico to accept her award on November 10, 2017.

The SFBTA Research Award provides funding for students and clinicians who wish to study solution-based practices and aims to foster the growth of Solutions–Focused Brief Therapy (SFTB) through research. Graduate and post-doctoral students, clinicians, and junior faculty studying SFBT who have graduated within three years are eligible to submit an application. The award provides up to $2,500 for any ongoing or proposed studies surrounding SFTB.

Valerie is in her second year of the Marriage and Family Therapy Ph.D. program and is set to graduate in May of 2019. Valerie intends to finish her research in the next year.

Valerie says that she chose to focus on Marriage and Family Therapy because she had previously worked in the child advocacy field and wanted to help children and their families.

"Marriage and Family Therapy gave me an opportunity to work with entire families and understand that the issues we may have are universal rather than just within one individual."

Valerie's study focuses on the effect that Animal-Assisted Therapy has on Solution-Focused Brief Therapy. The focus of SFBT is to find solutions for the patient rather than examining the problems that brought them to therapy in the first place. In this type of therapy, it is assumed that patients know what would improve their lives. With guidance, solutions can be formed based on the better lives that patients have envisioned for themselves.

SFBT is Valerie's primary therapeutic approach. Valerie hopes to bring the topic of Animal-Assisted Therapy and SBFT to current discussions within Marriage and Family Therapy.

Valerie plans to show clinicians new and inventive ways to use SFBT in therapy in order to make Animal-Assisted Therapy part of regular conversation. Winning the SFBT Research Award means that Valerie will receive the funding she needs in order to complete her study.

"I am able to get recognition from the SFBT community which validates that this study is important to the field."

In her research, Valerie will be able to train a therapy animal and gather the needed resources to finish her study. Valerie will take her therapy dog to a good citizen canine class, whereafter she plans to put the therapy dog through therapy training provided by Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

Valerie plans on staging the Animal-Assisted Therapy interventions at the Texas Tech Family Therapy Clinic, where she will be able to record sessions to use for her research.

Valerie says that she has always loved animals and often wondered how Marriage and Family Therapy could use animals to make therapy more effective. Valerie notes that there is minimal research concerning Animal-Assisted Therapy, which is why she feels that a study on the topic would further the SFBT field.

"The pilot study will lay the groundwork for identifying the effectiveness of utilizing Animal-Assisted Therapy with SFBT."

Congratulations, Valerie.