Celebrating Black History Month: Interview with FAMFT President
by Melissa Tran, LMFT
Dr. Tyon Hall, President, FAMFT
February is a time to honor Black History Month. More specifically, the achievements of black Americans in the history of the United States of America. I recently discovered that our current President, Dr. Tyon Hall, is the first black president of the Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (FAMFT).
To celebrate diversity and everything for which this month stands, I had the privilege to interview Dr. Hall. It seems fitting for me to write this and to highlight her contributions as she has played such an important role for my own professional development. It is through her example of joining FAMFT first on the elections committee that encouraged my own election the following year. As a woman of color, Dr. Hall continuously sets the bar for all of us to strive for more, not allowing stereotypes or subjugation to stand in the way of growth.
-FAMFT is celebrating 43 years. What was your reaction in finding out you are the first black president of FAMFT?
Initially, it was shock, and then a combination of surprised, confused and then almost disbelief… because there’s no way that in 2018 that I would be the first. Confused that it could be the case and not wanting it to be the case. In this day and age, there are still firsts being made in so many ways. It just reminds me that African Americans have more areas to continue to break through.
-What does that mean to you?
It means a lot. Of course, I shared it with my family they were very excited and had lots of questions regarding what it meant for the profession and what it means for me personally. Personally, it was a reminder that when you are passionate and work hard, despite its difficulty, just keep going because there are many ways your presence will be important for that space… for your family or others looking up to you. I think about what it means for the mental health community. The mental health community is an area where minorities in general don’t access these services, let alone being in leadership roles, so it’s meaningful for me to be here.
-In what ways has your diversity/race influenced how you have approached your position of leadership?
Personally, I don’t see how it would not influence my presidency. I think it informs my leadership and the things I am attempting to bring to FAMFT. I think I bring more of an awareness, consciousness and intentionality to diversity and the types of conversations we have. For example, having a conference last year that focused on how to have difficult conversations with others we may not agree with politically, socially, racially, or culturally. We rarely discuss, if ever, the difficulty it is to provide therapy to people who, at times and unknowingly, offend who you are as a person, your beliefs, or your culture. Providing a space for therapist to learn from Dr. Hardy and each other was a time I will never forget.
I also think the ideas that I bring are reflective of who I am overall including my age and my personality. For example, I was born in a time when there was no internet and then there was. I can appreciate both the traditional and contemporary methods of communication. So, I do pay more attention to social media. As president elect and during my presidency we have focused more on social media and we introduced a new FAMFT website. We are exploring new and innovative ways to communicate differently and I think that change is related to my age. As a female, I think I am a natural nurturer and that was/is reflected in adding a focus of self-care to the annual conferences which included leadership training, massages, acupuncture, and meditation training. I believe prioritizing self- care is the best thing you can do for yourself and your clients.
-Speaking of Dr. Ken Hardy, he was the keynote speaker for FAMFT’s 2017 annual conference. What were some other pivotal moments for you in his presentation?
One of the biggest thing I took from the training was his style – it was so interactive and engaging. By using examples from the audience and interactions between therapists, he demonstrated how to have uncomfortable conversations. He said often to “lean in” to uncomfortable conversations and so that’s another lesson I took away from that training. Different parts of ourselves dictate our behavior. Whether we want to engage, run away, or shut down. Parts of ourselves that have been subjugated in some way or parts of ourselves that are privileged. It was so enlightening to acknowledge all that make us who we are and find ways to respect that in others. I do think that after leaving the conference I have practiced having more uncomfortable conversations. Instead of fading away, I allow these parts of who I am to be front and center and be okay with that. I am clear and compassionate to the fact that others are struggling with these areas within as well and it will impact how they interact with me. In treatment, I lean into the issues of diversity and engage in conversation, especially when someone has said something that triggers a part of myself that might be wounded because of cultural or societal issues.
-What is your hope for the future of FAMFT?
Right now FAMFT is undergoing reconstruction. We are not sure what we are going to look like in the future. My hope is that however we choose to be represented in the state of Florida, that we don’t lose connection with one another, coming together yearly to share ideas, and to take care of each other and our communities. We need each other. Florida is a large state and we could easily lose touch. The more we stay connected, the easier it will be to access the resources that individuals, families, and communities need.
Also, I wish for FAMFT to continue to have opportunities for students to grow. One of the first opportunities I had in research was by attending local conferences. I know this is also true for other students. FAMFT is a good training ground for students starting out whether for clinical practice or for research.
I hope that all MFTs understand the importance of advocating for our profession. It is important that FAMFT continues to be a place for training and empowering practitioners and future leaders to advocate. We want to make sure our profession is able to thrive. I would hate to think that a student receiving a degree and can’t practice in Florida because the people who came before didn’t fight hard enough to keep the profession accessible to those who need are expertise. My hope is that MFTs take this seriously.
-How has being FAMFT President influenced you?
It continues to force me to do something that, at times, I am not the most comfortable at. I’m a servant. Everything I do is about serving. It’s never about being in the forefront or having the spotlight. There have been times when people have had to tell me to speak up. Hopefully, what they have learned about the way I operate is that I never talk just to hear my voice. I observe, analyze, and then offer what I believe to be of value. I have always been that way. What FAMFT and other leadership roles has taught me is that it (myself) is all valuable. It is important for others to hear my point of view, which includes my observation, my exploration of the issue, and my guidance. It’s part of my growth. I’m grateful for it. My experience with FAMFT and the past leadership has been outstanding. They have taught me so much.
I believe the true impact of being the President of FAMFT will continue to reveal itself. For example, part of that revelation came after our conference last year when several people approached me stating how great it was to see an African American female in this position. It’s definitely humbling. I do put pressure on myself to do a good job. I’m passionate for the profession and the work we do as MFTs. I hope I inspire others to get involve. There is no one type of person to take on this position. We need the diversity of race, culture, age, and gender. I hope this resonates for all people who are in this rewarding profession.
Thank you so much again to Dr. Hall for sharing her thoughts. I hope that we continue to push to be better versions of ourselves, knowing that we always have more room to achieve and to be humbled.
Melissa Tran, LMFT