Written by Ella B. Webster
Converse’s Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy program stands out for many reasons. It is the only COAMFTE-accredited program in South Carolina, and it is one of the most affordable programs of its type in the country. Another facet of Converse’s program that truly makes it unique is its partnership with local practice, EMERGE Family Therapy and Teaching Clinic.
Students enrolled in Converse’s two-year Marriage and Family program, or MMFT, complete their 500 required clinical hours in the EMERGE clinic.EMERGE aims to be accessible to clients from all walks of life. They achieve this goal in part by offering services on a sliding scale, meaning that a person who may be struggling financially can still take advantage of the clinic’s services.
“It is such an excellent resource for the community,” said 2nd-year MMFT student Stefanie Scott. Scott said she was drawn to Converse’s MMFT for many reasons, including that current students “raved about it” and that it is affordable, but also because she “really loved that they were partnered with EMERGE.”
One of the defining aspects of the MMFT program is the partnership between EMERGE and Converse.
“Most Master’s programs have their own clinic on campus,” Thomas said. This means that the university is responsible for running and maintaining the clinic, and the majority of the clients served there are the university’s students. However, because EMERGE is a “nonprofit community-based” practice, MMFT students completing their clinical hours there are able to work with a broad range of diverse clients.
Diversity is something that is deeply important not only to the program as a whole but to Thomas himself., a Georgia native and graduate of the University of Georgia, Purdue University, and Virginia Tech, Thomas is dedicated to fostering the diverse culture unique to Appalachia.
“This year, the program will have five core faculty members, more than doubling in size since last year.”
Appalachia, which includes Thomas’ hometown as well as upstate South Carolina, has the highest rates of opioid use in the country. The region also has many faith-based therapy programs and therapy practices in which “clinicians are able to turn down clients based on identity.” This can be intimidating, Thomas noted, to members of the LGBTQ community or other marginalized groups seeking therapy. Thomas’ passion for working with diverse communities in need led him to commit to staying in the Appalachian region as he continued his career.
As Department Chair of the MMFT program, Thomas has not only sought to train soon-to-be therapists to welcome all types of clients, but also has been part of the movement to expand the program. This year, the program will have five core faculty members, more than doubling in size since last year.
EMERGE opened a new site this year, located on the campus of the University Center of Greenville, where Converse currently offers five programs, including the MMFT. This site, which is also accredited, will function as a teaching clinic like its Spartanburg counterpart. Similarly, it will also see patients on a sliding scale, offering services for as low as $10 depending on the individual’s financial situation.
As the Greenville site seeks to grow its client base, Scott pointed out, it will also be offering six free telehealth appointments and 1 free in-person appointment. She encouraged anyone who might be seeking help or “struggling with their identity” to consider the services offered by EMERGE. “ can find an ally in us,” she said.
Finding help with mental health, Thomas said, can be intimidating or feel financially impossible. However, through the MMFT and EMERGE partnership, Thomas and his fellow faculty members and students can continue to fight that perception. By providing enriching and diverse training, involving clinicians and clients from all walks of life, and pushing to expand the program and spread knowledge of it, the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Converse and its partnership with EMERGE promise to only keep growing.