BYU marriage and family therapy program honored nationally for research

The BYU marriage and family therapy program was recently named the No. 1 program of its kind for research productivity.

That means the faculty does more research than any other group of marriage and family therapy professors in the United States.

The ranking, published in the leading Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, names four BYU faculty members in the top ten most prolific researchers: Jonathan Sandberg (#2), Russell Crane (#4), Jeff Larson (#5) and Rick Miller (#6). Larson, Crane and Miller were also ranked in the top ten for most-cited research. Professor Shayne Anderson was also listed as the most prolific author for faculty who have been in the field for less than 15 years.

Jonathan Sandberg, Russell Crane, Jeff Larson, Rick Miller and Shayne Anderson
Jonathan Sandberg, Russell Crane, Jeff Larson, Rick Miller and Shayne Anderson.

“We are delighted but not surprised by this recognition of the quality of research by our faculty,” said Alan Hawkins, BYU School of Family Life director. “I think our trajectory for the next 20 years looks even brighter.”

The research from BYU’s program helps develop both the academic and practical approaches to marriage and family therapy. Students in the program work with faculty on research as they go through school, preparing them to recognize and implement evidence-based best practices in their careers.

“More important than the number of articles read or cited is the number of students who were influenced by the process of participating in research and learned how to think critically, theorize about change, analyze data and draw conclusions,” said Sandberg, who also serves as the marriage and family therapy program’s director.

The BYU marriage and family therapy program was founded in 1967 and became fully accredited by the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors in 1972. The program seeks to be a healing influence in a world struggling to create safe and meaningful relationships by combining ground-breaking research with faith-centered family values.

The No. 1 ranking for the program is based on findings from a study that examined scholarly works published between  1999–2008 and 2008–2015 by faculty in accredited doctoral programs through the U.S.

Talking commitment: Upcoming Hinckley Lecture on cohabitation, commitment and marriage

Cohabitation is not an issue at BYU.

In fact, as well-educated, religious and generally economically-sound individuals, students at BYU are among the least likely to cohabitate before marriage.

But BYU students and couples are just as susceptible as anyone to experience the negative trends and effects of cohabitation on familial outcomes by avoiding commitment and relationship decisions.

At the 15th Annual Marjorie Pay Hinckley Lecture, Dr. Scott Stanley, research professor and co-director of the University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies, will expound on how relationships form, how commitment develops and the dangers couples face by “sliding” through potentially life-altering relationship transitions and decision making as opposed to discussing and deciding on a future.

Dr. Stanley’s lecture “Sliding vs. Deciding: Cohabitation, Commitment, and the Future of Marriage” will be held on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall.

Sliding: The non-decision

Talking about your relationship—especially the future of it—can be hard. But the repercussions of not having critical conversations and making relationship decisions are much harder.

“Sliding,” or moving to the next stage in a relationship without discussing the consequences and making a definitive decision and commitment to the future of the relationship, can be seen in relationships at every stage.

 “The people we’ve identified that are at greatest risk [of marital stress] are people who have decided to live together [or move forward in their relationship] before they’ve decided as a couple that they want a future together,” says Dr. Stanley.

Individuals who are not cohabitating face similar risk when they likewise forego crucial clarifying conversations and decision making. In the process of creating relationship ambiguity, couples, in Dr. Stanley’s words, “increase the inertia for their relationship to continue before talking clearly about whether they’re on the same page and where they’re going.”

Following trends and giving up choices

The combination of relationship inertia developing before a couple’s commitment has matured and the cultural trend of individuals preferring ambiguity results in individuals bypassing relationship steps and stages, and in the process, giving up future options.

“People don’t want to be clear,” says Dr. Stanley. “They don’t want clear [relationship] steps and stages because they don’t want to give up any options too soon. Ironically, that’s exactly what happens when they’re sliding through these stages. They’re giving up options before they make a choice.”

With societal trends questioning marriage as an essential life stage, individuals find themselves in situations that they never actually decide on because they bypass the stages and opportunities to make clear decisions for their futures.

Recognizing—and taking—proper steps

According to Dr. Stanley, commitment forms strongest when there are a set of steps and stages that couples move through.

Marriage not only acts as a signifier of higher commitment between two individuals, but it also acts as a major life-orienting step where individuals can make choices that influence their future lives and families.  

“People slide through potentially life-altering relationship transitions now without necessarily seeing what the consequences might be in terms of their future options, [relationship] stability, marriage and family,” says Dr. Stanley.

Recognizing—and taking—these steps and stages throughout a relationship are essential to establishing the commitment that creates the formation and foundation of sound, stable marriages, families and communities.

Regardless of a couple’s living situation, communication and commitment to a couple’s future need to be made before wedding invitations are sent or closets are merged.

Learn about commitment and the dangers couples face by “sliding” through relationship transitions at the 15th Annual Hinckley Lecture with Dr. Scott Stanley on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall. Admission is free to the public.

Hickman lecture 2018: How passion can change your life and relationships

Relationships aren’t only meant to be enjoyed in the next life. They are conditions of salvation itself. This is why passion is so significant in our journey through life. In the 13th Annual Martin B. Hickman lecture, Professor of Family Life, Dean Busby highlights the ways in which passion is crucial and beautiful in our lives and relationships.

Busby, Dean 28
Professor Dean Busby

To begin his discussion, Busby teaches the importance of passion from the perspective of its difficulties, asserting that passion is hard to hold onto. “You need people who can give you examples,” he says, “and inspire and show you that it takes courage.” One such example is Andrea Bocelli, a blind singer passionate about opera. He was told his dream to sing opera was impossible; he wouldn’t be able to see the conductor or engage with the audience. Originally, he was discouraged until he found a master who taught him to be guided by his passion in order to achieve excellence.

What is passion? According to Busby’s definition, passion is something you sacrifice and “exert substantial effort towards.” It “becomes part of who you are or what you identify with,” he says. A passion isn’t an interest you dabble in occasionally; it is a pursuit in which you wish to improve and enjoy further, and for which you will lay aside other aspects of your life. Passions are “central to identity” and “represent each person’s unique and fundamental way of being who they are.”

Busby says, “We are drawn to people who are passionate…Who we are has no meaning except in relationships with others.” This is why passions are very relational, and therefore, vital to our happiness in this life. We must cultivate them now to grow and expand our intellect and spirituality, as well as to become like God. Passion isn’t important just to bring us pleasant satisfaction, it’s essential to life on earth, says Busby. As President Hinckley said, “Life is to be enjoyed, not endured.”

Passion asserts itself in multiple styles. Low passion or lack thereof is known as over-regulated or inhibited, while excess passion is called under-regulated or obsessive. The ideal amount of passion is a harmonious balance between the two. According to Busby, there are many types of passion, including creative, physical, emotional, relational and spiritual/ intellectual. Sexual passion encompasses all of these and is a central factor in healthy relationships, and all passion types contribute in different ways to a fulfilling life. While following passions in areas of work, school and family can be difficult, the right amount of passion brings satisfaction not found any other way.

For the full 2018 Hickman lecture, click here or watch below.

2018 Cutler Lecture recap: Addressing the universal need for love and security

BYU Marriage and Family Therapy professor Jonathan Sandberg’s thought-provoking Cutler Lecture can be encapsulated in a simple scene from Winnie the Pooh:

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. 
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

The need to feel connected and loved is a universal need.

Safe and secure relationships form when individuals in the relationship are responsive to and accessible by the other individual. The isolation created by taking away this accessibility and responsiveness is traumatizing.

In a disconnected world, it is vital that we form and foster relationships where we truly see people and their needs and truly love them. Feeling loved and recognized gives us a secure base from which we can launch and explore other aspects of life.

Be vulnerable and seek out deep, meaningful and loving connections and relationships. Repair conflict in your relationships. Be hopeful in developing secure attachments and relationships with others–even if you have not experienced those relationships in the past. And find ways to be emotionally accessible, responsive and engaged with others on a daily basis.

People are in need of love and security and we are the ones who can help them.

For the full 2018 Cutler Lecture, watch the video below.

Passion for life, passion for others: 2018 Hickman lecture to teach the place for passion

Life is a constant search for balance.

Especially in religious living, it can be difficult to find a place for passion. But passion for what we love improves our minds and makes relationships beautiful.

At the 2018 Martin B. Hickman Lecture on Thursday, November 1 at 11 a.m. in 250 KMBL, BYU School of Family Life Professor Dean Busby will speak on how we can appropriately use passion to foster appreciation for life and loved ones in his lecture “The Place of Passion in Our Lives and Our Relationships.” The lecture is a free event and is open to the public.

Professor Busby has a Ph. D. in Family Therapy from Brigham Young University and taught Syracuse University and Texas Tech University before returning to BYU. Since his return, he has played a prominent role in the School of Family Life as the Graduate Coordinator of the Marriage, Family, and Human Development M.S. and Ph. D. programs, as well as the Director of the School of Family Life.

The lecture is in honor of Martin Berkeley Hickman, a BYU political science professor who served as the dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences from 1970-1986. He helped make possible the Women’s Research Institute, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and the Family Studies Center. As for teaching, Hickman is recognized as the father of BYU’s American Heritage program. Hickman was renowned for his loyalty and dedication to his family, the Church, the college and BYU.

The Martin B. Hickman Scholar Award is given annually to recognize a notable college faculty who follows Hickman’s example of service and dedication.

2018 Cutler lecture: Securing marriage with (research-proven) attachment

Research and clinical experience not only tell us that a healthy, happy and passionate marriage is possible, it also shows us how to create it.

The School of Family Life 2018 Virginia F. Cutler Lecture will give you the knowledge and resources to do this within your own family and home.

On Wednesday, October 17, BYU Marriage and Family Therapy professor Jonathan Sandberg will give his lecture “Secure Attachments: The key to a happy, healthy, and passionate marriage” that will highlight current research on adult attachment and romantic relationships. More specifically, Sandberg will review actionable behaviors that we can adopt to promote attachment—a key factor that leads to safety and security in marriage.

Our society may spread the message that having a happy and healthy family is no longer an option, but science says otherwise. You can choose–and act–to have a healthy, happy and passionate marriage.

Learn how to strengthen your marriage and family at the 55th annual Virginia F. Cutler Lecture on Wednesday, October 17 at 7 p.m. in 151 N. Eldon Tanner Building. The event is free and open to the public.

This lecture series is named after Virginia F. Cutler, former dean of the College of Family Living (now the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences). Dr. Cutler spent her entire life educating people on the home and family. She also cared deeply about women and people in other nations, and her career took her across the globe as she served people in Thailand, Indonesia and Ghana.

Preparing with hope: 2018-2019 Families at Risk lecture series

We aren’t meant to be alone, and in a world continually changing, Families at Risk reminds us what the core of life is: our families. An upcoming series of lectures powerfully advocates effective communication, healthy sexuality, mental health awareness and more.

The Families at Risk lecture series is held every second Wednesday of the month for nine months, beginning on October 10th, 2018. Classes start at 7 am and last for about two hours. Prices vary from $10 to $25 depending on the class, and all lectures are held at the BYU Conference Center.

From parenting kids with behavioral concerns, helping children transition to adulthood, and building healthy relationships in all stages of life, BYU Continuing Education offers advice and techniques for you and those you care for.

With such a diverse range of subjects, you may register for only the topics which are most useful and compelling to you and your family.

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy asserted, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” No family’s trials are the same, and yet they can all be reconciled through Christ. His hands are outstretched, offering hope and healing. The best thing we can do to build lasting, beautiful relationships with those who mean the most is to learn and grow together.

Registration is available in multiple convenient ways: over the phone (877-221-6716 weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., excluding holidays), by mail (Families at Risk Registration 229 HCEB 770 E University Pkwy Provo UT 84602), in person at 116 HCEB 770 E University Pkwy, or online at familiesatrisk.ce.byu.edu, where a full schedule and additional details are also posted.

Growing together: The importance of consistent sexual communication in families

Patting yourself on the back for gritting through “the talk” with your kid? Not so fast: new research from BYU family life professor Laura Padilla-Walker suggests that when it comes to your teens, one vague and generic conversation about sex is not enough.

In her study, just released in top-ranked Journal of Adolescent Health, Padilla-Walker found that ongoing communication about sex between parents and their adolescent children benefits the parent-child relationship and leads to safer sexual activity at age 21.

“Our current culture is highly sexualized, so children are learning about sexuality in a fragmented way from an early age,” said Padilla-Walker, who has been publishing in top family science journals for nearly two decades. “Research suggests that parents can be an effective means of teaching their children about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner, but that does not occur if parents only have a single, uncomfortable, often one-sided talk.”

Padilla-Walker evaluated parent-child communication among 468 14- to 18-year-olds and their mothers, plus 311 of their fathers. She contacted participating families every summer for 10 years and evaluated their level of sexual communication.

Each summer, participants responded to a four-item measure assessing parent-child communication about sexuality and avoiding sexual risk.

The study found that both teens and their parents reported relatively low levels of sexual communication, though teens reported even lower levels than their parents did. Those levels, for the most part, stayed constant.

“Whether or not parents think they are talking about sexuality often, children are generally reporting low levels of communication,” said Padilla-Walker. “So parents need to increase sex communication even if they feel they are doing an adequate job.”

An increase in sexual communication between parents and children, she found, can help adolescents feel safe going to their parents with questions and concerns. She also found that ongoing sexual communication resulted in safer sexual activity at 21, a finding that should increase the urgency parents feel to have conversations with their children.

Even if parents don’t anticipate that their children will be sexually active before marriage, said Padilla-Walker, “all children are developing sexually and need continuous and high-quality communication with parents about the feelings they are experiencing.”

Moving forward, Padilla-Walker hopes to explore the quality of conversations parents have with their kids about sex, specifically whether parents are being open and approachable or are using fear tactics and negativity.

“I would like to see an upward trajectory of parent-child communication as children age,” she said. “Parents should talk frequently with their children about many aspects of sexuality in a way that helps the child to feel comfortable and heard, but never shamed.”

– Jayne Edwards, University Communications

Spring/Summer Valedictorians: Changing the world a cap and gown at a time

With the end of the spring/summer terms comes another inspiring graduating class of Cougars.

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences boasts some of the best and brightest of the more than 30,000 students who walk across campus each year. This graduation, we celebrate the almost 400 FHSS graduates and their studies, efforts and experiences that are helping families, individuals and communities thrive. From Orem, Utah, to Tokyo, Japan, our graduates act as forces for good across the county and world.

Check out these adventurous, ambitious, and world-changing valedictorians:

Alexander Baxter PictureAlexander Baxter, a psychology major, loves studying monkeys. As a sophomore, Alexander started working in Dr. Dee Higley’s nonhuman primate research lab. In conjunction with Dr. Daniel Kay, he studied mother-infant attachment and infant sleep development. Alexander went on a summer internship to the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis. While there, he collected data for his own project of studying prenatal testosterone exposure. He loved the experience so much that he spent the rest of his time at BYU in Dr. Higley’s lab, and went on the internship two more times to collect data. Alexander presented his research with Dr. Higley at four professional conferences, six undergraduate research conferences, and published two first-authored research papers in peer-reviewed journals. In addition to studying attachment and social relationships in monkeys, Alexander also studied similar topics regarding humans, under the mentorship of Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad. Through the connections he made on his internship, Alexander was accepted into the biological psychology PhD program at UC Davis, and will continue doing research at the Primate Center. He is grateful for Elizabeth Wood, his lab manager and friend, and for Dr. Higley, his mentor. He will always remember Dr. Higley’s most important lesson: the people you work with are more important than the data they help you collect.

Berklee Baum PictureBerklee Annell Baum is a teaching social science major with minors in both history and teaching English as a second language. She grew up in Orem, Utah, and served a mission in Los Angeles, California. Berklee has always had a passion for learning about history and culture. During her education at BYU, she participated in a social work internship in Italy and was able to do historical research in Germany, Poland, and Austria. She was a member of Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society, which gave her

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The Family That Prays Together . . . Feels Connected, Unified, Bonded with Less Relational Tension

In a recently-published study in the Journal of Family Psychology, BYU researchers explored how family prayer influences family relationships, finding a connection between prayer and a number of benefits for families.

The 198 Christian, Jewish and Muslim families in the study lived in 17 different states and represented eight religious/ethnic faith communities. Family members were asked questions such as “Does your relationship with God influence your family relationships?,” “How does your family overcome major stresses and problems?” and “How do you share your faith with your children?”

None of the questions actually included the word prayer, but while coding the interviews, the researchers found 96 percent of the families referenced prayer in their responses, with 3,868 references in their interviews in total. The references were sorted into various categories.

“Many families loved to pray together, and it was the most important practice in their daily lives,” said Joe Chelladurai, BYU PhD student in the School of Family Life and lead author of the study. “As a family ritual, it was more than just putting up with the experience and getting through it. Family prayer provided sacred time and space to connect with God and with each other. It was a time of togetherness and interaction and a space to express love and concern for each other.”

Some of the themes from participants’ responses, listed in the results of the study included:

  • Family prayer as a means for continuing family religious traditions
  • Family prayer involves issues and concerns of individuals and the family
  • Family prayer provides feelings of connectedness, unity and bonding
  • Family prayer helps reduce relational tensions

Continuing family regligious traditions

In the interviews, parents indicated their eagerness to instill meaning and a sense of ritual to prayer. It was important to them to pass this on to their children. Children reported that they learned to pray through their parents’ examples. It was evident that a flow of religious direction and communication was occurring during this time. Family prayer was a practice, but also a means to transmit faith.

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