Amy Morgan, LMFT, is a Virginia-based therapist and doctoral candidate, earning her PhD at Virginia Tech, focusing on the impact of incarceration on families and children. She is also in the unique position of both providing and obtaining supervision hours through Motivo as she worked to become an AAMFT-approved supervisor under the supervision of Dr. Sheila Addison. And the hours paid off – Amy recently was approved by the AAMFT and can officially add AAMFT-S to her list of professional acronyms.
Early on in Amy’s career she worked in community mental health. This experience exposed her to the reality of injustices and systemic issues in lower socioeconomic groups and shaped the path she would take in her work. She is a passionate advocate and leader in her field, seeing part of her role as an educator to other clinicians, sharing her knowledge of resilience and challenges in vulnerable populations. Despite the seriousness and gravity of need she’s seen, Amy brings an air of enthusiasm and hope for change and improvement that inspires others around her.
A helper at heart, Amy long had an idea she would work in the field of mental health and wellness. “I always knew what I wanted to be, more or less, so I majored in psychology and women’s studies,” recounts Amy. “Then I stumbled into MFT as a discipline. I was actually applying to clinical psych programs but they were all rejecting me, for good reason. I didn’t have enough research or clinical experience. Now I am so glad I was rejected.”
Within the first two weeks of her MFT program, Amy knew it was where she was supposed to be. She clicked, not only with the main tenets of marriage and family therapy, but also with the people she was surrounded by.
After graduation, Amy found work in a Seattle community mental health clinic, mostly working with kids and families. She also took on night shifts in the emergency department, working with chronically suicidal patients and other emergency hospitalizations.
“That’s actually where I became really interested in policy and advocacy,” recalls Amy. “Because I saw a lot of the same people cycling in and out of the ER, that really needed a different type of mental health care but didn’t have the right insurance benefits.”
Honing her Passion
“I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to get my doctorate, but I didn’t know what my research was going to be,” explains Amy. “While working in Seattle, I became passionate about incarceration, and its effects on children, families and communities. I saw how they couldn’t make progress because it was always one step forward, two steps back.”
This brought her to her PhD program at Virginia Tech, focusing on the impact of incarceration. Now in her fourth and final year, Amy’s dissertation centers on what promotes resilience in families who have an incarcerated parent.
“We tend to only talk about the negatives or the risks when a parent is incarcerated. We look at how likely is the kid is to encounter the criminal justice system, or the likelihood that the family will have low socio-economic status. I noticed there weren’t many conversations that asked: “What about what about the families that do well? And thrive? What helps?”
Because the U.S. does not have a lot of incarceration research, Amy utilizes data from Denmark. Her experiences and studies have given Amy a passion to advocate against private prisons, which she considers “a human atrocity.”
“I think the way we treat the incarcerated leans far too punitive on the spectrum, versus rehabilitative,” Amy notes. “We spend the most money to get the worst outcomes, as compared to other industrialized nations.”
Trial and Error vs. Professional Experience
With her PhD coming to completion soon, Amy remarks that this is the first time in her life she asked herself, “What’s next?” She’s been doing one thing after another, always moving toward her goals, since first grade.
Amy hopes to continue working with Masters-level students and new clinicians in the future, but she also hopes to keep one foot in the policy world.
As a supervisor, her top value is honoring and empowering her supervisees autonomy.
“This is a field where you are inherently vulnerable,” explains Amy. “I don’t want to demean other careers. But software engineers don’t have to be aware of how trauma has impacted them to do their job. So I try to honor that in supervision by acknowledging the emotional labor that goes into this work. I try to help people feel like they have some sense of control over that. I want them to develop their instincts.”
She points out that what gets in the way of this value is the hierarchy in her role as a supervisor.
“I identify as a collaborative, empowering, feminist supervisor, but there still is an inherent hierarchy,” Amy says. “I still have to be able to step in and say ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is something we are mandated to report.’ Or ‘You can’t be this far behind on notes.’ That doesn’t feel great, because it isn’t in line with how I envision the relationship, but that’s supervision. I try to approach those situations collaboratively and in a way that empowers my supervisee.”
Her own experiences with supervision during her time in community mental health were mostly terrible, she remembers. With such heavy client loads, and such heavy client circumstances, Amy didn’t feel like she got the support she needed.
“They were doing the best they could with what they had, so I don’t blame them,” reasons Amy. “But honestly, I wish I’d had something like Motivo then. It’s more accessible than any option I had then for outside supervision. I was relying on trial and error and I wish I had been able to rely on professional experience and competence… I was really on my own.”
Based on her past experiences, Amy makes sure that she is the supervisor her clinicians need. She prioritizes both rapport and a match in experiences and has not hesitated to refer out a supervisee that had needs she couldn’t support.
“I love seeing what the next generation of therapists will become,” Amy concludes. “I love being a part of advocacy and policy. And I love the clinical aspect. I can’t do it full time, but only because I so love the other aspects. I’m grateful I stumbled into this field.”
We’d love to introduce you to Amy through a free, 30-minute video call. Click here to let us know if you’re interested in connecting with her or one of our Motivo team members.
Sign up to receive Mondays with Motivo via email! 👉