Member Spotlight: Vanessa Bradden

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“Vanessa Bradden has made strides to not only help others deal with different issues including grief and beyond, but also contributing to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy as a product development specialist. Since 2014, Vanessa has worked with the Association to help create products and content, while simultaneously running a successful private practice and most recently, helping herself and peers navigate with their clients through COVID-19. Learn more about Vanessa and her journey from Student membership to eventually becoming part of AAMFT staff!

Being a marriage and family therapist is a second career for Vanessa having first worked in the family business. This second career came as a product of personal exploration during what she jokingly referred to as an early mid-life crisis. She thought about what she wanted to do in 10 years, researching all paths with a great interest in the health of her family. For her, the core of a good society is to have healthy families and healthy individuals whether it is a traditional family or any version of a family as long as people are working together in the most functional ways.

It was while pursuing her MFT license that she started thinking about the identity of MFTs. As she compared her MFT experience to that of her peers in other mental health professions, from the number of hours needed to graduate, to the amount of clinical exposure and training with couples and families and the whole systemic pieces of it, she feels she received such invaluable training.

From a young age, though having a stable family life, Vanessa always had thoughts of grief and loss. Being born to older parents, she often found herself facing these ideations that she could possibly lose her parents, especially her father. When comparing her parents to that of her peers,’ she could not help but notice the age difference. Even as she lost her father in her early twenties, Vanessa learned that grief is nothing to fear. She sensed early on that we’re always losing something. She learned that grief is an ever-evolving feeling that humans feel, more than acknowledged. Her paradigm of grief is not always attached to losing someone specifically but the idea that there is also grief and loss attached to certain life changes. Today in her private practice she spends much of her time dealing with those who are suffering from certain forms of grief and new parents. Vanessa noted that we are constantly losing something in life as we evolve to the next stage; however, the feeling of grief often is only attached to major life events in our mainstream society, “I find grief empowering, it is okay to feel that way,” Vanessa stated.

When asked what she sees as the core difference between MFTs and other mental health professions, she says, “At the core of MFT is this idea that we don’t exist in a vacuum. That we are part of something larger and that all those pieces need to be considered in order to truly understand why a person is going through a particular difficulty.” With her MFT training, often she thinks about the context of possibilities that could be going on which removes judgment and removes pathologizing diagnostics.

Wondering how did Vanessa become a part of the association? Vanessa became a member first as a student then eventually a Clinical Fellow and later on she also became an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. It was always important for her to support her membership and have that representation because it is part of her identity as an MFT. She loves how through her AAMFT membership she can connect with other MFTs who share in that same systemic thinking, “and really feeling more at home with that.” Even with close friends who are great professionals but having a different mental health training, she feels she’s not connecting with them on a systemic level. In 2014, she found herself reading an email from AAMFT about an opening for a product development specialist. As she read the message, she thought, she has business background and family therapy background and writing experience. She also realized that she could connect more with her colleagues and peers and it is also a way to get more involved. So, she sent in her information and the rest is history. Her role has since evolved to include content development. This opportunity gave Vanessa insight as to how not only MFTs work but the Association that provides them support. Her role as a specialist has played out in many different ways.

One of the biggest tasks that Vanessa has taken upon herself is coordinating and facilitating groups within the MFT community. Naturally having these skills from her many years of education and therapy, when COVID-19 hit she knew exactly what she could do to help create a safe haven for MFTs. Vanessa decided to create a consultation group or, “a place for MFTs to talk about everything, not just therapy. We’re all human and sometimes we just need to connect.” Creating this haven for herself and other MFTs in her community enabled them all to not only help one another but be more effective with their clients.
Believing that “a core of a good society is having healthy families and individuals,” Vanessa continues to not only help her clientele but also members of the AAMFT Family, just like you!

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Spotlight: A Member’s Journey is a feature that showcases AAMFT members and their unique stories that shape them as people and as therapists. This profile appeared in the March 26, 2021 edition of AAMFT’s Family Therap-eNews. 

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